A recent research by Kadir Has University, Istanbul indicates that there is almost a de-facto abortion ban all over Turkey. According to the research “out of 431 state hospitals with departments of obstetrics and gynecology 7.8% provide abortion services without restriction as to reason, 78% provide abortion care if there is a medical necessity and 11.8% do not provide the service at all.” In addition to this, “Of the 58 education and research hospitals with departments of obstetrics and gynecology, 17.3% provide abortion services without restriction as to reason, 71.1% if there is a medical necessity and 11.4% do not provide the service at all.” Another striking finding of the research is that “53 of 81 provinces in Turkey do not have a state hospital that provides abortion care without restriction as to reason.”
President Erdoğan made abortion a personal issue since the days of his Prime Ministry, saying “abortion is murder,” “awoman denying motherhood is only half a woman,” or claiming that it was part of a bigger conspiracy to sterilize the Turkish nation. Mr Erdoğan is a champion of pro-natalist policies who does not miss an opportunity to advise citizens to have “at least three children.”
The state's Agency for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), is also opposing abortion except under certain specific conditions. The agency published a religious ruling (fatwa) in its 2016 calendar stating that abortion is murder and someone who has committed this crime should either donate five camels or 212 grams of gold. However Islamic teachings are not that clear, when it comes to abortion. In Islam the fetus is not considered to have a soul until 42nd week of pregnancy, and hence some scholars have ruled that abortion should be allowed until then or when the pregnancy could harm the health of the mother or was the result of a crime.
It was already reported in 2013 that these discourses create psychological pressure on people, and a perception that abortion is not legal in Turkey. A previous research of Kadir Has University has also shown the shift in the public opinion whereby those considering abortion as an inalienable basic right decreased from 53,9 to 43,6 within the last year.
NGOs like the Turkish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology or women’s organizations fear that an abortion ban would increase maternal mortality rates, which had significantly decreased in Turkey in the past owing to the abortion right. There are already reports from 2015 that women turn to informal channels for abortion as a last resort. The NGOs emphasize that abortion is not an issue of mere health, but also and before that, of rights.
The government is criticized for preventing abortion illegally by creating a state of a de-facto abortion ban, while the Ministry of Health is denying that such a ban exists. There has already been criticism since five years that the availability of abortion is intentionally curbed by the government, yet the findings of the recent research demonstrate in a very concrete way how extensive the consequences of these policies have been so far.