The abortion debate and honor-based violence in Turkey
Abortion has been the topic of debate for almost a month in Turkey. Despite the government’s attitudes on banning abortion, there is strong disagreement from women’s rights activists and NGOs. An abortion ban, however, could result in an increase in the number of women affected by honor-based violence in Turkey.
Voluntary abortion is permitted in Turkey up until the 10th week of pregnancy. However, there is a special statement (Article 99/6 of the Turkish Penal Code) that allows women to seek abortion if the pregnancy is as a result of a criminal offence. This is an important article, as it allows women to perform an abortion up until the 20th week if she has become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
Although pregnancy is one of the miracles that many women would like to experience, it is not always the case if the pregnancy occurs without the consent of the mothers.
I am not talking about unwanted pregnancies that occur as a result of a lack of contraception. Such a situation falls beyond my argument in the abortion debate. I strongly disagree when abortion is practiced as an alternative form of birth control by couples. When that is the case, I should admit, I agree that abortion is a form of homicide as the prime minster mentioned a few days ago. Despite the situation in rural areas of Turkey, where most people have no idea or do not have adequate access to contraception, many couples still conduct abortions because of their own failure to use birth control methods.
What I am trying to highlight here is the unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape and incest. Unfortunately, the incest and rape rate in Turkey is high. Although there are many reported and prosecuted rape and incest incidents which have attracted attention in the media, this is only the tip of the iceberg; many incidents are still unreported. One of the reasons for concealing such incidents is the fear of losing honor. In Turkey, honor still stands as a cornerstone for many families. Family members, especially as a result of patriarchal attitudes, feel responsible for taking action when there is a danger to the family’s honor and reputation.
Pregnancy out of wedlock is one of the situations that is seen by many families as shameful. Members of families usually seek remedies in order to get rid of this shame before it is discovered by society and before the families lose their honor. There are normally two actions that are taken by the families: the first is to force the rape/incest victim to marry the rapist and the second is to abort the baby before the pregnancy is discovered by society in order to protect family honor. If the pregnancy is discovered by society, the members of the families sometimes plot to murder the victims to restore their honor. In that situation, abortion plays a significant role in saving mothers’ lives. Allowing mothers to end their unwanted pregnancies sometimes reduces the possibility of being murdered by their families.
What I want to underline here is that, while the government aims to protect the lives of fetuses, it should at least pay equal attention to the danger that the mothers of those babies might face.Without abortion, mothers who were raped could easily be killed by their families for the sake of honor. Countries that forbid abortion in their laws, including strict Islamic ones, usually allow abortion in order to save mothers’ lives. Of course, what is meant by “saving mothers” lives’ is considered within the context of medical necessity. However, Turkey should consider saving mothers’ lives not only for the medical reasons but also for sociological ones.
While drafting its planned abortion law, the government should calculate all the possible consequences that women may face. Saving mothers’ lives – not just fetuses’ lives – should have priority during the drafting period. Instead of alleging that abortion is a form of homicide in all cases, the government should think twice about the possible growth in the number of honor-based homicides if abortion is banned in Turkey.
*Ferya Taş is a PhD candidate at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London.