(Istanbul) – Turkey should not attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortion, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements have recently suggested. Erdoğan announced that he views abortion as murder and that his government is preparing legislation to severely limit women’s access to abortion. Human Rights Watch is concerned that restrictive legislation may violate Turkey’s human rights obligations.
“Decades of access to legal abortion in Turkey are at risk,” said Gauri van Gulik, global women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “If these statements are translated into legislation and policy, Turkey would take a leap backward on women’s rights.”
On May 25, 2012, Erdoğan spoke at the Parliamentarians’ Conference on the International Conference on Population and Development and said: “I consider abortion as murder. Nobody should have the right to allow this. You either kill a baby in mother's womb or you kill it after birth. There's no difference.” According to news reports, Erdoğan said, on May 29, that, “We are preparing a law on abortion and we will enact this law.” He was reported as saying, however, that grave health risks to the woman may justify abortion.
Several Turkish ministers and politicians supported Erdoğan’s statements. Fatma Şahin, minister of family and social policies, was quoted in Hürriyet Daily News as saying: “Abortion and ending pregnancy, which is what our prime minister called ‘murder,’ is ending the pregnancy after ignoring birth control methods. If you destroy a life and have an abortion after you ignore birth control methods beforehand, then this is a violation of the right to live.”
News reports quoted the head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Commission, Ayhan Üstün Sefer, as saying: “Abortion is a crime against humanity. It means depriving unborn babies of the right to life. It’s a delusion to consider that a baby’s life begins only after a certain period of pregnancy.” And Health Minister Recep Akdağ was quoted in news outlets as saying that the government wants to reduce the number of abortions and that a study was under way to assess possible measures against abortions.
Further restrictions on abortion in Turkey would threaten women’s human rights to life, health, equality, privacy, physical integrity, and freedom of religion and conscience, Human Rights Watch said.
Restrictions on access to safe abortion do not necessarily lower the number of abortions, but may lead women to seek unsafe, unregulated alternatives. In Argentina, Nicaragua, and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch has documented the results of unsafe abortion, including infections, hemorrhaging, and sometimes death. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, each year, 67,000 women die due to complications of unsafe abortion.
Since 1983, abortion has been available on request in Turkey during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. After that, a legal abortion is permitted only to save the life or health of the pregnant woman and in cases of fetal impairment. Parental consent is required if the pregnant woman is a minor. The law requires a married woman to obtain spousal authorization. The consent requirements are waived if the woman’s life is in immediate danger.
“Instead of focusing on the huge problem of gender inequality in Turkey, the government is planning to impose new controls over women’s bodies,” van Gulik said.