Because of Turkey’s social, moral and religious context, abortion is mostly framed in the context of population planning (as is the title of the law that regulates abortion) to refer to abortion regulation. It is a matter that continues to carry great stigmatization, and cannot be easily separated from the socio-religious aspect. Since Türkiye is a largely Muslim country, even though its law is not structured around Islam, its population and political leadership by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recognize Islam as its moral compass.
Various social organisations and collectives and abortion providers that seek to promote change not only on the legislative level but also in the collective perceptions of citizens, have kept alive conversations about abortion in Turkey. Abortion is approached from heteronormative conceptions of the family structure, since the political discourse over the last few years has been focused on family planing, which includes abortion. Yet, abortion is restricted in Türkiye and therefore is a matter that requires attention from both legal entities and the Turkish civil society.
What does the law say in Türkiye?
Abortion Rights in Turkey
According to the 1983 Population Planning Law (Law 2827), abortion in Turkey is permitted up to the 10th week of pregnancy. The law authorizes the Turkish Health Ministry to regulate abortion and mentions the importance of strengthening transversal institutional commitment between State entities and population sectors to ensure its enforcement and effectiveness.
The law was drafted as an approach to population planning, which refers to “the freedom of individuals to decide on the number and time to have children” (Law 2827, 1983). The content of the law states that it is possible to perform abortions until the 10th week of pregnancy if the person requests so, but will only be permitted if the pregnancy is potentially life-threatening. In such a case, the abortion provider that performs the procedure must report to the Directorate of Health and Wellbeing along with all information about the patient and the reason for the abortion  since an investigation has to be carried out to ensure it is within legal bounds and there is proper justification for abortion after the 10th week of pregnancy. The law also mandates married abortion seekers to get an informed consent signed by both the abortion seeker and her spouse (this also applies to abortion and sterilization procedures for women).
The law on Population Planning was created by the government with the objective of controlling population growth, influencing the collective idea of family being the central pillar of Turkish society . Because of this, the State and its various institutions are made to work together in areas such as education, informative systems, and culture to ensure that the heteropatriarchal family remains the central nucleus of society and is protected and promoted as such . This perspective responds to sociocultural aspects of the Turkish context that must be considered to understand Turkish laws and policymaking that are heavily impacted by religious morality. However, this has always been a matter of debate, especially since the 21st century because even though law establishes the conditions to regulate abortion, society may have views that differ from the law and could end up affecting its enforcement.
How many abortions are performed in Türkiye?
Abortion statistics in Türkiye
The most recent Health and Demographic Survey is from the year 2018. This survey is conducted every five years and contains information about abortion in the country in the five years before its publishing. The 2018 survey concluded that:
- 15% of married women have had an induced abortion.
- Between the years 2013 and 2018, 6 out of 100 pregnancies resulted in induced abortions.
What do people in Türkiye believe?
Opinion on abortion in Türkiye
Türkiye’s political constitution promotes secularism, which means it is not based on religion or religious beliefs. However, since 98% of its population is Muslim  there cannot be a conversation about Turkish society without mentioning religion. Islam prohibits abortion and in most of the countries where Islamic law is enforced, it is restrictive with very few exceptions. But that is not necessarily the reality of what happens in the country, because the effectiveness of the measure depends on society and its citizens. This is why we need to mention religion as an aspect that is relevant for Turkish society because despite a secular constitution, socio-religious morals play an important role and, in some cases, prevail over it.
Turkish society is divided into two factions where one believes abortion is a sin and should not be further discussed since it is already regulated by law and another that promotes the debate about abortion in a democratic environment to seek possible changes in the law. Public debate and spaces for conversation should have a place, since Türkiye is a democratic society. In 2012, Türkiye’s Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke publicly against abortion, referring to it as “murder” and advocated for the Turkish population to keep having large families with numerous children. After these declarations made by now President Erdoğan, there was a rise in the number of health professionals and health services that started refusing to provide the procedure, based on the objection of conscience (Brett, 2023, pg. 19).
Even though the Turkish abortion law does not mention objection of conscience as a legitimate mechanism for abortion providers , in numerous instances, health providers and health professionals on whom the law effectiveness depends greatly, allow their subjective judgment and beliefs on abortion to prevail over the content of the law, resulting in prohibition of abortion because even in private health institutions, where in theory abortions could be performed by law, the health provider staff refuses to provide the service . After the mentioned declarations of 2012 from Erdoğan’s government and its cabinet, including the Health Ministry  the health provider sector has become more complicated since even private institutions are imposing more obstacles for the access of such service, including the elevation of prices and the moral consequences for the patient.
In past years, there have been several studies about perceptions and collective ideas towards abortion, among which there’s one from 2019 that was made in the region of Manisa about the perception of married women towards abortion. Out of the numbers the study found, most of the women agreed that abortion was a matter that had to be dealt with in privacy since it’s a shameful thing and should be prohibited, unless it represented a risk for the person’s mental or physical health (Evli, Isteyerek, 2019).
On the other hand, a study performed in 1996 by Akile Gürsoy, showed that there has been a recent change in perceptions and attitude towards abortion because back then, 83% of the population thought abortion should be permitted if there was a medical opinion that established a risk for the person’s health; the 74% of the population on the study thought abortion could be permitted when the person did not have the economic conditions for childbearing; 57% thought an abortion should be conducted if it was the person’s wish and 9% thought it should be permitted under any circumstance  (Gürsoy, 1996, pg. 533). It is necessary to highlight that the study was conducted on a population significantly bigger than the one from 2019, and it dates to at least more than 25 years ago, so the numbers are very much outdated, but it is a useful referent to understand the general picture on how public opinion on the matter has changed throughout time.
Who are the people who have requested abortions?
Abortion seekers in Türkiye
Regarding the population sectors that accessed abortion in the country recently, it’s been found that most of the women who have accessed the procedure are married women that already have children . The Health and Demographic Report from 2018 reported that out of the abortions performed in the five years before the report publishing, 19% of the women who have had an induced abortion already had five or more children, and only 7% did not have previous children.
This tendency did not mean a big change because in the previous report from the year 2013, the results were the same on this population sector, since it represented a positive and direct correlation between having had children before and having had an induced abortion. At the same time, the highest number of women who had induced abortions in the five years before the 2013 Report, were married women . So, in the last reports, the tendency has remained the same.
On the other hand, regarding the age range of women that have had abortions, the Report from 2013 found that the highest number of induced abortions were accessed by women between 45–49 years old, representing the 27% of the population that got induced abortions in the five years before 2013 . The percentage did not change for the next Report, it was still 27%. For that report, (2018) the age range between 15–17 years old represented a 3%, indicating that the age range with the most probability of having had an abortion was 45–49 years old.
For the Report of 2018 it was found that urban areas had the most significant number of abortions in comparison to rural areas . Regarding the distribution of income, the difference is not much in terms of percentage, since women with the highest income levels were the ones that accessed abortions the most (17%) in comparison with low-income levels (13%), which in relation to reports about the context of abortion in the country can indicate that the procedure is expensive and may only be available for people with high income.
Lastly, it was found that women who accessed the procedure of abortion the most had high education levels, representing 19% of the population of women that had induced abortions. This contrasts with the 10% of women who have had an abortion and only finished the secondary education level. These findings from the 2018 Report indicate that the access to abortion in Türkiye is not easy, and it is concentrated in urban areas of the country, meaning it’s a service that is not accessible easily and is not available countrywide since it’s limited for people with a certain income level. Even though the law indicated the regulation for abortions, the socio-cultural context of Türkiye results in it still being a very limited service only accessible for certain areas of the population.
What abortion services are available in Türkiye?
How does the context affect abortion in Türkiye?
Context and abortion
Since the promulgation of its Constitution in 1982, Türkiye has been a country that stands out in nature because despite its secular character, it’s the home of a majority of Muslim population with a complex history that results in making it an auspicious place to promote debate and public discussion on abortion.
Before the 21st century, Türkiye was a scenario of dispute between different world powers such as the Ottoman Empire and afterwards, European Western powers. This country has been a meeting point for different cultures and religions because of its geographical location, and its geopolitical implications. It is the entrance door to the Eastern world and the connection point with the Arab world for the West.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, in the between wars period, Türkiye went through a series of processes that involved modernization and a restructuring of the State and the social and political composition of the country, where there was a guiding idea of attempting to structure society as similar as possible to the European nations. Some approaches about Türkiye see it as the result of the expansion of European cultural domination in the Middle East and the paradox that could mean in terms of peaceful coexistence between modernity and traditional morality in a mostly Muslim country. (Gürsoy, 1996, pg. 532).
Islam views abortion as a punishable act that is prohibited by law, religion and morals. However, as Türkiye is a secular state, its law does not refer to religion as a foundation to prohibit or allow abortion. According to the 2827 law of 1983, abortion is regulated, and its conditions are stipulated there, since it belongs to a set of measures directed to population planning, which has been a main objective for society ever since Ottoman times to organize societal structure. Before the promulgation of the 83 Constitution, there was the idea of a Nation being as strong as the size and density of its population, which meant that the more inhabitants meant more national strength. This was considered a pro-natalist perspective , where the more births, meant better conditions for the state.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and what can be known as the diminishing of the Ottoman/Muslim reign in the country, the pro-natalist idea did not remain in the past, and in fact it was still promoted by future rulers of Türkiye with the purpose of avoiding population numbers to fall. By the year 1930, abortion was restricted along with contraceptive methods, actually there were incentives for the population to keep bearing more and more children . But as the decades went by and there were ideological changes about matters such as the foundation of a Nation, political parties, etc., this pronatalist approach of the State was changing as well and its notion kept getting wider to welcome the questioning of the role of the family as a foundation for society.
Türkiye has a societal and cultural context where Islam is the ideological and moral base, but that has not stopped its people from raising their voices to question their government. That’s how in 1983 the discussion about abortion became a very important matter , and it resulted in the law 2827, where individuals got their freedom to make decisions on family planning, meaning how many children and when they wanted to have. However, because of the Muslim population that still sees religion as a fundamental pillar of their actions, there is still a general belief that induced abortion is a sin and even a murder (Evli, Isteyerek, 2019, pg. 332).
Before the law was created, there was knowledge about the alarming problem surrounding maternal mortality rates which were eventually related to the restrictions of abortions, because the fact that it was illegal did not mean women did not practice them even in very risky conditions for their own health. In fact, it was one of the main motivations for the government back then to create such a law. Ever since its creation, there has been a decrease in the maternal mortality rates related to unsafe abortions, because while in the 1950s the numbers represented a 50% of the mortality rates in mothers, for the year 2015, it had decreased to 2% (Letsch, 2015) .
Between 1983 and now, law 2827 has been revisited a couple of times in the public debate arena because it is perceived as inefficient due to the conditions it implies. Firstly, one of its main critiques is the title (Population Planning Law) of the law itself because population planning, as mentioned before, is still based on the heteronormative family as the central pillar of Turkish society and the need to conform to it. The population planning framework focuses on demographic density and not their rights, thereby ignoring crucial aspects like the population’s quality of life, their rights, and guarantees..
On the other hand, the law makes the consent of a married woman’s spouse mandatory if she wants to proceed with an abortion (or even a procedure for sterilization). This contributes to gender inequality in the country and its institutions, along with a lack of autonomy for women on their bodies and their choices. The law does not mention situations of pregnancy as a result of sexual violence or situations where there was any type of abuse towards the woman. This is a reflection of women’s individual lives not being a priority for the Turkish government because it does not consider the implications of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy on their lives since it is based on patriarchal notions reducing women to the familial role of motherhood instead of an integral and individual perspective that seeks to strengthen and guarantee women’s rights.
Türkiye’s current president, Recep Erdoğan, has been in office since the year 2014, along with the Party of Justice and Democracy (AKP for its initials in Turkish), which has been since its creation, close to the extreme right political spectrum that has constantly highlighted their belief in the centrality of orthodox religious morality in politics and policy formation. This has been made clear by the president’s stance throughout his political run on issues of gender equality, contraceptives regulation and abortion itself, where he refused to recognize struggles for gender equality and human rights. Erdoğan promotes the idea that, since Türkiye has a majority of Muslim population, it must follow Islam’s principles as the base of national moral values. During his mandate as a first minister, Erdoğan spoke publicly about abortion in the year 2012 when he said it should not only be considered “a murder” but was also comparable to crimes against humanity, along with his preoccupation with the risk it means for morality .
Issues like abortion, therefore, are expected to be approached from an orthodox religious perspective of sin and ‘murder’. In fact, because of the nationalist speech that characterizes Erdoğan, the pronatalist approach from the past has regained strength in the country, ignoring the fact that it was a notion from the Ottoman Empire back when there was no discussion whatsoever about women’s rights.
That same year, the Parliament proposed a law that was set to impose so many limitations to abortion that it could have been almost prohibited, and since the Parliament was in its majority formed by the AKP party, the draft was very close to being passed. The draft established that abortion was to happen within the first four weeks of pregnancy, which would mean a significant decrease in the possibility of accessing one because between the first four weeks it is very hard to detect a pregnancy . Because of the massive protests of citizens that came out on the streets of Istanbul, the draft was stalled, and the party decided to withdraw it. However, the tendency to stigmatize abortion is still present in political and societal contexts.
During his first mandate as a first minister and his presidency, Erdoğan urged the Turkish people to keep augmenting their numbers. He has urged women to have at least three or more children, arguing that it is the way to strengthen Turkish society. He has also made declarations where he views procedures such as c-sections as “unnatural”, as well as feeding babies with formula, and even contraceptives or planning methods, which has led to a strong questioning not only among a section of the Turkish people but also across the international community. Different organizations like Amnesty International  have expressed concerns about the president’s declarations because they represent an assault on human rights through creation of policies that promote inequality. Türkiye has attempted to form part of the European Union, but the president has not put into practice measures that allow that rights guarantee demanded by the EU, since he promotes an Islamist agenda where gender equality and women’s rights are not a priority .
Currently, there is preoccupation with the lack of support of the government towards different social initiatives that promote safe and accessible abortion, because aside from the obstacles that the political sector has imposed, there is no support of sectors such as the academic and professional to protect and abide by the legislation. It is known that in numerous instances, health provider professionals and health care institutions have denied the provision of the service to pregnant women because of personal beliefs and conscience objection, which also contributes to the obstacles for law enforcement .
It is a challenge for civil organizations that seek to promote human rights, as well as for national and transnational feminist organizations, since their struggle is not only happening against a political system that’s based on inequality, but also against a society that represents an obstacle for these types of initiatives. There is still a huge problem of access to health services in Türkiye, both in the public and private sectors, that is very concerning for women of the country in terms of the defence of human rights and sexual and reproductive rights.
How did the pandemic influence abortion in Türkiye?
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic affected Türkiye deeply, causing the government efforts to be oriented towards dealing with the pandemic and its consequences. This meant that the health system was dedicated mostly to facing COVID-19, which, along with the restrictions on mobility that were imposed all over the country during the year 2020, the accessibility to health services was limited, especially for women that were seeking an abortion .
Before the pandemic, abortion services were already pretty limited because of many factors (the economic factor as it is an expensive service, it is limited to mainly urban areas and in private clinics, and because of the stigma surrounding it, the social and political context), but during the following years after 2020, it became almost inaccessible. It’s known that in Türkiye there was a de fact of prohibition of abortion, and it was an instrument for the government to undermine the few resources organizations such as Purple Roof had, since they are focused on dealing with violence against women guarantee of rights, human rights, and sexual and reproductive rights suffered a lot .
According to a Report made in 2020 by the organization Women’s Human Right, in Türkiye 10 of the women that had to attend to a medical professional due to emergencies related to their pregnancy, only 6 received medical attention . General perception of accessibility to abortion during the pandemic worsened, since 51% of the people in the country seemed to believe a woman should not be able to access an abortion in a State hospital (D.E. ve, 2021).
The pandemic brought a series of obstacles and barriers for women in Türkiye to access abortions. The conditions that were already complicated, got even worse, and the lack of guarantee in the human rights area that was already happening in the country because of the current political context, got into an even deeper crisis that contributed to the creation of further obstacles and barriers.
The abortion data gap in Turke
What we don’t know
Although some data are available, to have a complete picture of the abortion situation in Türkiye, studies would require answering the following questions:
*This page presents abortion data only for women and girls since the information available is usually not separated by gender. However, AbortionData.org acknowledges this limitation.
Where did we get the information?
Sources & Partners
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