Abortion is an important and great part of sexual health and reproductive health rights. It is an intentional termination of the pregnancy which can happen due to various reasons. Abortion has been banned in religious countries and related to political factors to simply control and exploit women’s bodies throughout the history. For this reason, abortion demands more explicit discussions in public space since it is not a private matter anymore and is highly politicized.
Legalization of Abortion in Turkey
After World War 1, Turkish governmental system adopted strategies and policies to boost population, abandoned contraception use, and encouraged people to have more children until 1965. Even though it was illegal at the time, many women were having abortion secretly dangering their lives and consequently, suffering from unsafe methods which caused unnecessary maternal mortalities.
However, the population planning law was enacted in 1965. Contraception use and information, and abortion with the only condition in which maternal health and baby’s health were in danger were legalized. At the time, it was reported that the number of women who died from complications due to illegal abortion were around 12.000 and it needed an urgent change in the law. In 1980, 98% of women at the age of childbearing tried to have abortion at least once. After such statistical reports, legalizing reproductive rights was the common interest among civil women organizations, second wave women’s movement and medical experts. Accordingly, a more comprehensive law on population planning was implemented in 1983 and legalized contraceptive devices and information, and abortion services in Turkey. The law remains in effect today.
Abortion is Legal Under Which Conditions
According to this law, induced abortion is legal without restriction to reason through 10 weeks of pregnancy. Also, it is legal through 20 weeks if the pregnancy is the result of a crime. In the case of women under the age of 18, parental or a judge consent is required and for married women, spousal consent is required. If a pregnancy presents a threat to the woman’s life or there is a possibility for fetal abnormality, the law requires no gestational time limit. In such instances, the doctor must inform health authorities of the women’s identity, the procedure and the rationale. Also, doctors, nurses and midwives are authorized to receive training on sexual and reproductive health.
Aspiration abortion is the norm in Turkey and is covered by public health insurance. The medical abortion was legal until 2012 and misoprostol was available without prescription in pharmacies and public hospitals. Misoprostol and mifepristone are drugs that encourages self - inducing abortion less then twelve weeks pregnancy and have high reliability in use.
Limited Access to Abortion in Turkey
That abortion is legal today in Turkey does not mean it is applied appropriately. Public hospitals are inadequate to offer abortion services, many women go to private clinics, however, they are highly expensive and health insurance does not cover it. There is also huge taboo among medical experts who do not accept to do abortion and claim that it would be too risky. Almost 10% of public hospitals provide abortion care without regard to reason which is provided by the current law (O’Neil, 2017). 62% of abortions have even operated in private hospitals or clinics in 2013 (TNSA, 2013). Also, KHAS Gender and Women’s Research Center (2020) has reported that only 10 of 295 public hospitals stated that they offer abortion services and all are located in five cities of the whole country. In the study, the rest of them claimed either it is illegal or referred to another hospital such as private institutions.
In a study of medical students in Turkey, 60% of students thought abortion should be legal but 16% of them said they would be willing to perform the procedure (Mihciokur et. al, 2015). So, it is difficult to imagine a future where abortion care is available in every region if doctors are not trained to perfom a abortion service or abortion is not seen as an integral part of sexual and reproductive health rights.
Above all, political ideology and discourse have an influence on gender bodies regarding self - determination on birth control methods, particularly for women. For instance, Prime Minister of the time declared that “abortion is a murder” in 2012. After such a public explanation, the government stated that they started to work on law that limits access to abortion care through specific preconditions. But, any law arrangement did not occur until now.
It is hard to disregard the effect of political leaders on sexual and reproductive health rights of women in any place in the world. Unfortunately, abortion is legal but not accessible in Turkey. As it is less opened to discussion in public sphere, it is forgotten and concerned medical experts are not educated to perform abortion service. If a woman does not feel ready to become parent or is not planning to have a family, lack of abortion care is likely to cause both psyhological and physical damage in women’s bodies. It is simply a violation of human rights; a form of sexual violence. All those pro life policies and social norms put pressure and create a permanent stigma on why abortion should be legal and implemented independently and why it is important for women’s liberation. In Turkey, both political atmosphere and religious values reinforce this pressure.
All health system tools must obey to the law and perform the abortion service in a safe and stigma - free environment. Society needs to be constantly informed and to be educated with evidence - based programs on change in norms and attitudes. Male contraceptive use should be encouraged as well. All birth control methods should be legal and be easily accessed to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
About the author:
Gökçen İleri is a medical student and soft skills trainer. She is interested in sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, period poverty and also experiential learning.