Turkey’s wanna be bedroom coach, that’s how I saw Prime Minister Erdogan being described on Twitter this weekend. Fresh in the mind is Erdogan’s call on Turkish couples some years ago to have no less than three children, now he has taken a strong stand against abortion and caesarean birth deliveries. The description made me giggle. Which was quite welcome after the anger I’ve been feeling at how Erdogan addresses these important issues. They require consideration, nuance, humanity, but he doesn’t seem to have these qualities in him so he just throws the topics on the table very curtly and leaves it at that.
Illustration of ‘curt’? He actually compared abortion to the murder of 34 civilians in Uludere, end of December, by the Turkish army: ‘Every abortion is an Uludere’. When you know a little bit about the process women go through before they take the difficult decision to have an abortion (and I know a little bit more about it than average, since in my previous journalistic life I wrote a lot about women and health, including abortion), you could interpret that as: apparently he admits that the bombing in Uludere was a well considered decision made by the one and only person in charge – read: himself. But Erdogan obviously has no clue about the decision-making process of women who have unwanted pregnancies. He just calls women who have an abortion “murderers”. And added that abortions are done to prevent Turkey’s population growth. How dare he?
It gets even weirder when you know that this remark actually makes Erdogan look humane in the crazy Turkish reality. A few days ago, Interior Minister Sahin made very rude and totally unacceptable remarks about the Uludere massacre. He accused the civilians who were killed of being ‘PKK extras’ on an illegal mission (smuggling) ordered by pro-Kurdish party BDP and the PKK, and who would have been prosecuted if they had been caught alive. And that therefore there was no need whatsoever to apologize for the incident. Both Erdogan and another high AKP official denounced Sahin’s statement, but of course he wasn’t fired and he didn’t step down.
I am surprised to see the comments about this. Nobody even touches on the possibility that this kind of remark is exactly why Sahin is in the government. He has said and done extreme things before. This is just his role in the AKP. Many AKP voters totally agree with the words of Sahin, and he is the minister keeping them on board. After that, Erdogan can publicly denounce Sahin’s words and use his ‘humanity’ on a totally different subject like abortion, and hop, the whole AKP electorate is happy again. When they see each other without any outsiders looking on, Sahin gets pats on the shoulder: well done! Of course Sahin is not fired; he is perfectly useful as he is.
Back to the subject – hey, Erdogan links important women’s issues with the Uludere massacre, so don’t criticize me for it. Is abortion a big problem in Turkey? Some statistical research shows that is not the case. In Turkey in 2008 some 17% of known pregnancies ended in (legal) abortion. To compare: in my own country, the Netherlands, this was almost 13% in 2010, in the United States 22% in 2008. Abortion has been legal in Turkey since the early 1980’s, in most cases up until the tenth week of pregnancy and the law prevents underaged and married women from taking the decision totally by themselves. Wider availability of modern contraception methods (among other developments) earlier brought the rate down: in 1988 4,5% per 100 women had an abortion, in 1998 this decreased to 2,4%.
So, beats me what the point is of bringing this up. Every unwanted pregnancy is one too many and is better avoided. If Erdogan is against abortion – which is a legitimate opinion – then it’s up to him to find policies to bring the numbers down further. Sex education in schools, better availability of contraception in the whole of the country, information campaigns at family health centres (and opening or staffing them everywhere), etc. But he is not really interested in that. He just wants to show himself as a pious religious and nationalist man, and is flagrantly using an important women’s issue to reach his goal.
Caesarean sections? Yes. They are a problem in Turkey, definitely. The rise of caesarean section deliveries reached a whopping 37% in 2008, coming from 8% in 1993. Especially in the most developed regions in the west of Turkey, women opt for a caesarean section instead of natural birth and doctors at the numerous private hospitals don’t hesitate to help out. From the research I have done, it seems that women make the choice not well enough informed. The risks of a huge operation like a section are often being downplayed, the negative sides of natural birth exaggerated. But a caesarean section is a significantly higher risk than a natural birth: there is a risk of unexpected bleedings, infections, and the risks of epidurals or full narcosis. Recovering from a caesarean takes more time than recovering from natural birth, and also comes with greater risks.
So yes, reason enough to put the topic on the agenda. But to do that by saying you are ‘against caesarean sections’? How can you be against a medical procedure that over the centuries has saved the lives of thousands of women and babies? A slap in the face for all the women that had no choice but to deliver via caesarean. And again: if Erdogan is really interested in bringing the rate of caesareans down, then he has the power to do something. Information campaigns, encouraging doctors to adopt a medical standard in when to choose a caesarean and when not, etc. But he’s not really interested, he just wants to score. Again, abusing an important issue in the lives of many women.
Erdogan has two daughters, who are young women now. I have been thinking about them this weekend. Who knows how their lives will turn out? Who knows, they may at some point need to consider an abortion or a caesarean section. I hope their dad is a different father than he is a politician, and that he will support them in whatever choice they make.
This article is originally published at journalistinturkey.com. Reprinted here with permission.