The “War on Women” moves to Turkey

By Nicholas Nehamas

Pro-choice activists call it the “War on Women.” Opponents call it defense of the unborn. Whatever the wording, the debate over abortion  isn’t just happening in America.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a rule making it harder for women to obtain an abortion. Islamic practice permits abortions in some circumstances. Under current Turkish law, women may seek an abortion up to ten weeks after conception. Turkey’s new law would limit that period to four weeks.

Turkish women protest the government’s new abortion law in an earlier march on June 1. 27 were arrested after they tried to storm the Health Ministry. (Credit: National Turk)

Religious conservatives, including the country’s top religious cleric, might be happy about the idea, but many Turkish women are up in arms. On Sunday, 3,000 women gathered in Istanbul to protest the proposal by the ruling Justice and Development Party. Many of their boyfriends and husbands joined in as well. The demonstration included banner waving, dancing and the singing of a traditional Turkish folksong with the lyric: “I was born free, I shall live free, who are you?”

According to a report in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, a number of women wearing headscarves also participated in the march. There were also similar protests in several other cities.

Turkey’s current abortion law was passed by a military government in 1983 after a number of deaths from illegal abortions.

Erdogan, in a speech that almost could come straight from the U.S. abortion debate, said “whether you kill a baby in its mother’s stomach or you kill a baby after birth, there’s no difference. Every abortion is an Uludere.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a conference in Istanbul May 31, 2012. Critics say his new law limiting the right of women to seek legal abortions is politically motivated. (Reuters/Osman Orsal) 

Uludere, you ask? It’s a village on Turkey’s border with Iraq. In late December, Turkish military aircraft bombed a convoy of civilians and mules transporting goods near Uludere, killing 34 people. The Wall Street Journal reports that the attack originated with an American predator drone that spotted the convoy and alerted Turkish authorities, who thought they were Kurdish separatists. The killings have been hugely controversial in Turkey.

What does Uludere have to do with abortion?

A good question. Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a columnist for Zaman,  an English-language newspaper with conservative leanings, says the new abortion law is meant to distract Turks from the Uludere tragedy and other political issues, like Erdogan’s Putin-esque bid to become president.

Playing the abortion card sounds like fighting fire with grease. Will Erdogan get burned? Stay tuned.

Straight to the Source