Europe must fight Turkish abortion restrictions !

by Lilian Sepúlveda*


01 June 2012 Evidence show that abortion restrictions lead not to fewer abortions, but to increases in unsafe and illegal abortion procedures, warns campaign group

Women living in Turkey could be facing a dangerous future, thanks to the extremely troubling remarks and actions of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan. Last week, he sparked outrage among local women’s rights advocates and the international human rights community at the annual International Parliamentarians’ Conference on Population and Development, in Istanbul. Erdogan said that he saw abortion as “murder” and asked the audience: “What’s the difference between killing a baby inside a mother’s womb and killing a baby after birth?”

It was ironic that he spoke these words at a meeting where parliamentarians around the world gathered to reaffirm their commitment to the ICPD programme of action. It specifically calls on governments to address the harms of unsafe abortion and support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions. But the Turkish PM’s expressions of disregard for the lives and health of women did not end there. Just a few days later, Erdoðan publicly called for his harsh sentiments to be enshrined in law; demanding a change in Turkey’s current abortion policies.

Currently, abortion is legal in Turkey during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter to preserve a pregnant woman’s life or health – and in cases of fetal impairment. According to media reports, Erdoðan is now seeking to drastically reduce this time period. If he gets his way, abortion will be legal only in the first month of pregnancy, before the vast majority of women even know they are pregnant. The consequences of restricting abortion are bad enough. Mountains of evidence show that abortion restrictions lead not to fewer abortions, but to increases in unsafe and illegal abortion procedures.

In areas where abortion is banned or otherwise unavailable – as Erdoðan would have it – women nevertheless find ways to end unintended pregnancies; regardless of whether they have to go outside the law to do so and even when it comes with a profound risk to their lives. And it is a deadly risk. About 13 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide – nearly 50,000 in 2008 – are due to unsafe abortions. Because of these grim but well-established facts, the vast majority of countries around the world have moved to liberalise their abortion laws. According to research by the Centre for Reproductive Rights – in the last 17 years, some 26 countries have broadened the circumstances under which abortion is legal. These include Iran, Colombia, Albania and Portugal.

My body, my decision

Only a small number of countries – including El Salvador, Japan, Nicaragua and Poland – took steps to further restrict abortion or make it more difficult for women to get a legal abortion procedure. They have faced strong criticism and sometimes legal action from international human rights organisations, courts and human rights bodies. In Poland – abortion is legal only when the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or health, in cases of severe and irreversible fetal impairment or when the pregnancy is the result of a crime. But even under those narrow circumstances, women have found it nearly impossible to get an abortion even when they desperately need one.

After hearing the tragic case of a woman forced to carry a troubled pregnancy to term, even after it nearly caused her to go blind, the European Court of Human Rights recognised for the first time that governments have a responsibility to ensure women have access to abortion where it is legal. The same court found in a later case that denying women legal reproductive health services can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment – a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Other international human rights treaties also protect abortion rights. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – Turkey has made a binding commitment to provide women and adolescent girls in its country with access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion services.

In fact, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has resoundingly confirmed that denying health services that only women need, including abortion services, amounts to sex discrimination and violates international human rights law. But the Turkish prime minister’s attempt to dial back women’s reproductive rights would mean that all of Turkey’s promises to respect women’s human rights were empty – placing the country squarely on the wrong side of history when it comes to reproductive rights. Turkey’s lawmakers must stand up now and fight this attack on women’s health and lives.

*Lilian Sepúlveda is director of the global legal programme at the Centre for Reproductive Rights campaign group, in the United States
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One Response to Europe must fight Turkish abortion restrictions !

  1. pluton says:

    The problem is not all about abortion. Unfortunately honour killing is still one of the biggest women’s problems in Turkey. If a woman is raped, she is forced to commit suicide by her family. If she does not commit suicide, she is killed by her family. It is the reality of Turkey.

    During abortion discussions, the mayor of greater Ankara, Melih Gökçek, said on TV that a mother who considered abortion should “kill her herself instead and not let the child bear the brunt of her mistake”. Obviously, he supports honour killings and suicide. Abortion is only the tip of the iceberg.

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