Proposals to ban abortion in Turkey provoke protests

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 11 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4030
  1. Emilie Green
  1. 1BMJ

Abortion could soon be illegal in Turkey as prime minister Tayyip Erdogan has announced plans to withdraw a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Erdogan’s two speeches, delivered last month at the International Parliamentarians’ Conference on Population and Development, have provoked a strong reaction. A draft bill outlining what changes to the law will be made, either restricting abortion after 4 weeks’ gestation or banning it completely, is due to be completed and announced next month.

In Istanbul between 3000 and 4000 protesters, mostly women, went on to the streets carrying banners entitled “My body, my choice,” outraged at the prime minister’s likening of abortion to murder.

“Every abortion is a murder,” he said. “There is no difference between killing a baby in its mother’s stomach and killing a baby after birth.” Erdogan also likened abortion to the events in Uludere last December, when 34 civilians were killed by the Turkish military during an air strike. The incident, which caused widespread concern, is still under investigation

Abortion at up to 10 weeks’ gestation has been legal in Turkey since 1983. The change to the law has been credited with a subsequent reduction in the number of maternal deaths from illegal abortions.

Objectors to the prime minister’s proposed changes point out that there is no evidence to suggest that abortion rates are increasing. Data from 2008 show that around 10% of all pregnancies in Turkey are terminated, which is a much lower rate than the European average of 30%.

Sally Hughes, director of European strategy at Marie Stopes International, predicted that a change in the law would result in many Turkish women travelling abroad for abortion. “Each year, over 2500 women from around the world travel to use our services in the UK, the majority because their right to choose whether they want to continue the pregnancy is extremely limited in their home country,” she said. “Currently we see few women from Turkey, but would expect this to change if the proposed legal changes are made.”

The plans of the prime minister, who is also opposed to elective caesarean sections, which he sees as “unnatural” are reminiscent of his proposal to criminalise adultery in 2004, which ultimately failed. Turkey’s health minister, Recep Akdag, is in agreement with Erdogan’s extreme views, and recently announced a policy to reprimand hospitals that carry out elective caesarean sections.

Erdogan is renowned for his advocacy of large families, and his plans to ban abortion are said to be driven by his desire to render Turkey one of the top 10 economies by 2023. He states that “a young and dynamic population” is essential for the country’s economic progression.

Erdogan’s views have been criticised internationally, and many associations have established an e-petition forming a united front against the plans.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4030