Prime Minister Erdoğan is skilled at launching new debates, and he often does so with strongly held opinions. The latest example is his attack on abortion as “murder.” As a bonus, he even condemned the widespread use of Caesarean section births in Turkey, and argued that this was part of a plan “to slow down Turkey’s birth rate.”
To me, this idea of a “Caesarean conspiracy” against Turkey sounded quite ridiculous. I also found it alarming that Erdoğan and his Cabinet are growing increasingly fond of such conspiracy theories. Like their Kemalist predecessors, they have begun to routinely complain about “foreign powers” that threaten Turkey’s peace, prosperity and power. (I have begun to think that there might be a paranoia catalyst in Ankara’s water system or something, for whoever lives in that awkward city enough gets helplessly conspiracy-phobic.)
The abortion side of the debate, however, is important. Yet while this issue might raise some controversy in Turkey, I don’t expect it to become a culture war as big as the one in the United States.
The main reason is the Islamic view of abortion, which, just like that of Judaism, tends to be slightly more lenient than the Christian view. Most Catholic or Evangelical Christians believe that life begins at conception, so they regard abortion at any stage as murder. Most Islamic scholars, however, tend to think that the fetus is “given a soul” when it is fully formed, which takes place only in the fourth month of pregnancy. Although most Islamic scholars favor abortion at no stage, they are likely to find it permissible in the first trimester.
This is probably one of the reasons that Turkey’s laws allow abortion until the tenth week of pregnancy. (Although Turkey is a secular state and its laws do not derive from Islamic sources, the cultural attitudes in society seem to have affected law making.) That is also why there has not been a resolutely “pro-life” movement in Turkey as well.
So why, then, did Erdoğan launch an attack on abortion?
There might be two reasons: The Islamic view on abortion is not monolithic, and there are those who regard it as murder at any stage. Erdoğan might be influenced by that view.
Secondly, his real concern might be Turkey’s demographics. He believes that the larger and younger the population of Turkey is, the more powerful she will be. Hence, he has been advising families to have three children. His opposition to abortion, in other words, might well be an expression of his yearning for more Turkish babies.
Finally, if you are wondering about my personal opinion on abortion, here it is: I am neither categorically “pro-life” nor “pro-choice.” I actually often feel my self closer to the former camp, for I certainly believe that the unborn baby certainly has a right to life, and this cannot simply be left to the “choice” of the mother, as secular feminists often claim. I just am not inclined to see the very early stages of a fetus as a human being. I also see that abortion might have understandable grounds on bases such as rape, a deformed fetus, or the health of the mother.
Moreover, I see that Turkey has more burning issues than abortion these days. The Kurdish question is still bleeding, and results in tragic deaths such as the 34 victims of “collateral damage” in Uludere, or the police officers who get killed by the PKK. The government would be wiser to focus on saving those living souls, before those of the unborn.