Monday, June 4, 2012

When Language becomes Violent: the (lack of an) Abortion Debate in Turkey

Within a week of my arrival back to Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan threw the country into a frenzy by claiming that “that every abortion equals an Uludere,” equating abortion with the killing of 34 innocent civilians by Turkish armed forces, who mistakenly were thought to be PKK militiamen due to botched intelligence.  This affair, which occurred on 28 December 2011, has continued to top the agenda in Turkey with the government trying to dodge any responsibility. With this one sentence, Erdoğan succeeded in swaying attention away from Uludere and changed the agenda to abortion.  First, it needs to be said that the comparison between abortion and jet fighters bombing innocent civilians left most accepting that this was yet another one of Erdogan’s blunders. However, the Prime Minister also unleashed a violent campaign of words against women who have legally chosen to abort their pregnancies, by stating that abortion is equal to murder.  If this was not enough, he also confused most people by claiming that equally worrying for Turkey is the high rate of c-sections, as this put the country’s women at risk of limiting their birthrate to two children. Lastly, the icing on the cake was his hinting that both c-sections and abortions was the result of a conspiracy to limit Turkey’s young population from growing at an expansive rate.

Within hours, the media and politicians grabbed on this and as a result the last two weeks or so we have seen numerous “men” come out with the harshest of words, with the news outlets filled with such language as cinayet (murder) and tecavuzculer (rapists). Especially showing their insensitivity have been members of the ruling AK party who have stated that they will do their utmost to make almost all abortions illegal and this even including women who have been raped. The health minister, Recep Akdag, offered a solution to these victims of rape, stating that the state would be in charge of taking care of the new class of orphans, basically meaning that rape victims would have to serve a nine-month term holding a baby. Of course, not taking into consideration the pain and emotional damage thousands of women will go through; of course, not taking into account that without an abortion option, women most likely will be subjected to more violence due to cases of honor killings which will occur once they are found pregnant. Not to mention cases where women will be carrying the baby of a member of their family as a result of familial rape (an issue discussed on one Turkish television channel this evening). Not to think about the number of women who will opt for suicide, try to perform self-induced abortions, or find themselves injured in illegal clinics.  

The violent language however reached a new high with Ankara’s mayor Melih Gokcek offering a solution to the women that have no mercy for their unborn fetuses. Gokcek, who ironically is trying “to protect life,” asked why should the child pay for the crime of the mother, [in that case] let the mother kill herself. 

Well, it seems if the government has it their way, within the near future, the time limit to abort will be lowered from ten to four weeks, a stage where pregnancy often can go unnoticed.  We will need to wait and see the stipulations which come with the new sanctions. 

I suppose the tragedy in this is that the government has shown that it is not interested whatsoever in opening this topic to a debate with the medical world and the public at large. Overnight, they have attacked women’s right over their body and did so in a reckless and hurtful way. Numerous demonstrations have been held, and on the nightly news one demonstration in Ankara caught my attention. It was a group of women hitting the police with sticks and confronting the police force’s batons and shields. Of course, the sticks were symbolic and posed no challenge but it reflected the polarization we will see with one sided decisions by a government which has a strong enough majority to create new status-quos with the snap of a finger. Furthermore, with a government with almost twenty male ministers and only one female, they should think twice about what the real issues women deal with on a daily basis, such as violence and a lack of education, just to name a few. However, sadly they have demonstrated the opposite.    


  1. This is very shocking news and can possibly lead to more extermism. This law or decision can make women's lives very difficult. i think that a woman can better decide if she wants to give birth to her child or not. sometimes it might not be the right time for her. If she gets pregnent by rape or she is not married and get pregnent,her life would be very difficult in the society. i think that its very personal issue for anybody and president needs to solve other problems in the country and not to dictate civilians lives. Samina

    1. Samina, I agree with you. Thanks for you comment! You also point to an important point -how an unmarried woman will be treated in her society. There are so many implications. Just one correction- the Prime Minister not the President :))