Erdogan vs women: the abortion debate

This week, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements on abortion and the reaction of civil society have compelled me to write on the right to have an abortion.

Despite all the unspoken sensitivities regarding abortion, this topic was not on the agenda of Turkish public until Prime Minister Erdogan stated that “Abortion is murder”, and “Every abortion is an Uludere  ” and therefore should be banned.  So, why did Mr. Erdogan suddenly get so vocal on this issue?   One possible explanation is that Mr. Erdogan wanted people to forget what has become a hot spot for his government after WSJ’s Uludere report  
In December 2011, the Turkish military killed 34 Kurds in a border town calledUludere, while they were smuggling oil from Northern Iraq, thinking that they were insurgents belonging to the outlawed PKK organization. Though the government was asked to carefully investigate the issue, not much was revealed and the military officers responsible were protected from further reprimand. Therefore, while the government formed a new entente with the military by protecting both the military as an institution and its officers, civil society, including AKP supporters, severely criticized the government. Many thought Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement about abortion was made at just the time to deflect attention from the public debate.
If this was true, however, the AKP tactic backfired as protesters marched to demand their rights and said they would never forget the Uludere massacre. The words of the Prime Minister do however reflect the AKP’s ideas on women. The imagined role of women in Turkish society is pretty well confined to procreation – as the chief duty of motherhood. Therefore, it may be  ironic but hardly surprising, when Fatma Sahin, the female minister of women and family affairs, says that abortions should be to subject to restriction, since nobody has the right to “murder” the foetus and abortion threatens the structure of the Turkish family. Is it a coincidence that a woman minister’s ideas overlap with many Turkish men’s ideas?  We really need some of Foucauld’s understanding of state power to be able to answer this question. But instead I shall have to make do with various people’s reactions to this issue – which now follow.
Ali gokpinar photo
It seems the AKP government did not expect such a powerful women’s movement and was shocked when not only women but also men harshly criticized the government. Protests were organized all over Turkey with the motto “Benim Bedenim, Benim Kararim (My Body, My Decision)”.  Protesting women and men have said that the state has no authority over their bodies and they have asked the government to facilitate access to contraceptives rather than banning abortion  . On June 17, there will be simultaneous protests in Istanbul, Ankara, Eskisehir, and many other cities to prevent a ban on the right to abortion and to protest at the starting-point for government  pronouncements on the issue which is the ‘right to life’.
However, a recent study  has found that public support for the right to abortion has markedly declined since 1990.  While this support increases as education levels rise, it declines the more that religious issues and right wing ideologies play a significant role in an individual’s life.  This finding suggests that Turkish society has gradually become more conservative, despite the increasing educational opportunities and level of education.
As for me, I believe that this raises a basic democratic question: does the majority have the right to impose a ban on the right to abortion?
This piece was first published by openDemocracy .