By Ayla AlbayrakSource: Wall Street Journal
Turkey’s prime minister this weekend waded into a politically charged debate over family planning, causing a furor by likening abortion to a botched military airstrike which in December killed Kurdish smugglers.
Speaking to his ruling AK-Party’s women’s branches on Saturday in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “I see abortion as murder… I am asking you: what’s the difference between killing a baby inside a mother’s womb and killing a baby after birth?”
The prime minister went further, comparing abortion—which is legal in Turkey up to 10 weeks from conception—to the December killing of 34 Kurdish civilians in Uludere, on Turkey’s Iraqi border, by a Turkish military airstrike. The incident has put Turkish government under intense political pressure.
“Each abortion is one Uludere,” Mr. Erdogan said, adding that abortion and caesarean births were part of “a sneaky plan to wipe the country off the world stage” by slowing the growth of Turkey’s population.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, this weekend reacted furiously, while civic rights groups said the comments showed how the powerful prime minister was increasingly trying to legislate on every aspect of Turkish society.
“The prime minister should stop guarding vaginas,” said CHP lawmaker Aylin Nazliaka on Saturday.
On Sunday, women’s rights activists waved banners outside Mr. Erdogan’s office in Istanbul, stressing that the prime minister should “know his limits” and “pull his hands off women’s bodies.”
The prime minister’s comments were always going to be controversial, but the impact was magnified by the fact that they were unexpected. Turkey’s population—almost 75 million, according to the latest census—has a high birth rate, making it exceptionally young by European standards. In Turkey, unlike in the U.S. and some European countries, abortion has not been a major subject of political debate, despite the fact that Mr. Erdogan’s ruling AK-Party follows an Islamic-conservative line. Nor has abortion been a major source of public debate for clerics in Turkey. There is no clear consensus on the subject in Islam.
However, this weekend’s statement was not the first time the prime minister had rhetorically entered citizens’ bedrooms. Mr. Erdogan has for years promoted his own ‘three-child policy,’ recommending that Turkish citizens should have at least three children to keep the country’s population and workforce dynamically youthful.
Turkey’s cabinet fanned out across the airwaves on Sunday to back the prime minister’s comments. Family and Social Policies Minister, Fatma Sahin, said that criticism against Mr. Erdogan’s words was not “scientific.” She said the ratio of caesarean births in Turkey is dramatically higher than in other comparable countries and that the method has its risks. Ms. Sahin said that recent reports showed that nearly half of all births in Turkey were from caesarean sections.
It is unclear what the Prime Minister’s comments will mean for Turkish family planning policy.
Turkey’s Health Minister Recep Akdag on Saturday warned that measures could be taken against hospitals which have caesarean rates deemed “unnecessarily high” by the government.
But Ms. Sahin didn’t imply that there would be any change in Turkey’s abortion law, saying that every family has the right to plan its size.
“As the political administration, we are not in the position to interfere with that right,” Ms. Sahin said on Sunday, according to Anadolu news agency.