In Turkey, the legislation dating from 1983 states that abortion can take place on request if the abortion is not a medical problem until the tenth week of pregnancy. If there is an exceptional case, an abortion can be performed up until week 20, with necessary authorization. However, married women and girls under the age of 18 are not allowed to make that decision on their own. They need the permission of their husband or father/parent. In order to access abortion care, a woman’s spokesperson becomes a man of the family institution. For some, like Beren and Peride, the choice to abort was theirs, seeing as they were unmarried and over the age of 18. Gülen was faced with a doctor asking both her and her husband if they were sure of the decision to end the pregnancy. It can be difficult to access proper abortion care, largely because those who perform abortions must be specialized in gynecology and obstetrics. Research on abortion access shows that many hospitals refuse to perform abortions with no restrictions, and the majority of regions do not have a hospital that can provide abortion care, even if it is permitted by law. Thus, the availability of safe abortion depends not only on permissive legislation but also on a permissive environment, political support, and the ability and willingness of health services and health professionals to make abortion available. Peride experienced going into a shady area, which is where she was able to terminate the pregnancy.
Abortion was first controlled in 1838, in the Ottoman Empire. As part of the Tanzimat reforms, abortion was illegal as a measure to increase the population to ensure the welfare of the country, while underlining the role of motherhood by using religious references. The ban on abortion is not included in the criminal laws of 1840 and 1851, although there were punitive practices.
The ban on abortion is officially included for the first time in Articles 192 and 193 of the 1858 Criminal Code, and it is envisaged to punish those who help abortion (Atay, 2016):
Article 192 – If a person deliberately or unintentionally causes a pregnant woman to drop her fetus, he/she first pays the punishment according to the rules, but if he/she does this deliberately, he/she is then sent to the shovel.
Article 193 – A person is sentenced from six months to two years in prison if he or she attempted to try drink a drug that causes a pregnant woman to drop her fetus, whether it is her consent or not, or describes the occasion that may cause it and drops her child. If the doctor, surgeon and pharmacist causing this, he/she is temporarily sent to the shovel.
After the dissolvement of the Ottoman Empire, the population of the new Republic, Turkey, had decreased due to war, illness, famine, and migration. The imagination of the regime was a great nation, and to further increase population numbers, laws criminalizing abortion were put in place again. The Turkish Penal Code No. 765, codified in 1926, criminalized abortion via abortifacient medication and tools due to “life and body integrity”. New laws that came about in 1930 and 1936 further strengthened this hold and the penalties were aggravated.
Although abortion was a crime, women still sought out to terminate unwanted pregnancies. In 1965, contraception and abortion in cases of medical necessity became legal as a way to lower the number of illegal abortions and maternal mortality. Abortion was rarely allowed; only in special cases and it was done in silence. Abortion numbers were still high and reported numbers range between 500,000 in 1970 to 350,000-450,000 in 1980. In 1980, 98% of women of childbearing age had had at least one abortion. Additionally, due to the partial abortion ban and prevalence of clandestine abortions, maternal mortality was high in the 1980s, and between 10,000-15,000 women died annually. Abortion was finally on the agenda in 1980, largely thanks to the contributions of feminist movements. However, to some, abortion was considered to be on the agenda due to the continuing abortion practice, viewed as decreased respect for the law.
Abortion was legalized in Turkey by the Population Planning Law dated May 24, 1983 No. 2827:
Article 2 – Population planning means that individuals can have children as many times as they want. The state takes the necessary measures to ensure the training and practicing of population planning. Population planning is provided with contraceptive measures. Termination of pregnancy and sterilization is carried out under the supervision and control of the state. Except as required by this law, pregnancy can’t be terminated, and sterilization or castration surgery cannot be performed.
Although abortion is legal under certain circumstances, women are faced with several obstacles of having the procedure. First, they need permission from their husband or parent . Second, they must find a facility that allows for the abortion procedure to be performed. Third, the current government is conservative, and its leader and the President of Turkey, Recep Erdoğan, has expressed that abortion is murder and a crime, and that having at least three children should be the goal of every woman. There have been efforts to implement anti-abortion practices, and according to Sedef Erkmen, author of a book on abortion in Turkey, this has de facto banned abortion. For example, the government tried to further reduce the limit from 10 to 6 weeks. This was an attempt by the government in 2012, which was stopped in part due to marches organized by feminist movements and other activists. According to Erkmen, public hospitals listen to the president when he calls abortion murder and then refuse women abortion services, which again hits the poorer classes hardest. Some accounts also say that the hospitals schedule women for appointments after they have passed 10 weeks’ gestation, ensuring that the procedure cannot be performed. Moreover, there is little access to contraceptives due to the high price and little information, which makes abortion the next alternative. Abortions become more and more expensive the further along one is, and at week 10 an abortion at a private clinic may end up costing around 500 euros, a large sum for the average Turk. This becomes a vicious circle.
Written by: Tilla Solli for The Women's Museum of Norway
Information collected by the Women's Museum in Turkey
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