So far the abortion issue in Turkey is handled according to a law that was adopted in 1983 allowing free choice until the 10th week of pregnancy and thereafter conditional access to abortion based on factors such as rape, abnormality of the child and an obvious health risk to the mother. This was (and still is) the liberal conciliatory understanding of the issue. Whoever objected to abortion due to personal or religious beliefs would abstain from exercising this right, and whoever would do otherwise had an equal opportunity to exercise their preferences. But with a fervent attack on abortion by the prime minister and his associates, a new law to prohibit abortion seems imminent.
The rhetoric from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is very similar to the arguments of the universal Right and religious groups, including the Vatican, American conservatives and Iranian clerics. “Abortion should be prohibited and mothers having unwanted children should commit suicide,” was the statement of Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek. “Mentally and physically impaired children should still be born even if their defect is detected prior to birth. The state will take care of them,” he added. This was the shared understanding of a group that included the minister of health.
We all know that children born out of wedlock are frequently punished along with their mothers. News of parentless and abused children (especially girls) in children’s homes surfaces in the press frequently. Women severely beaten by their husbands cannot find protective agencies for themselves and their children. They are occasionally slain by their husbands when they return to their unhappy homes. So this sudden burst of affection towards helpless mothers and parentless or special-needs children does not square with reality.
So what are the reasons for this unexpected debate that swayed Turkey from contemplating its existing structural problems? The most important of these problems is the Kurdish issue. So far no government or political party has come up with a viable definition of the so-called “Kurdish problem.” It is for this reason that a functional approach to solving the problem was not developed. The “security approach” adopted, which depends on employing more violence to suppress the violence of the Kurdish militia, only prolongs and expands the realm of violence and ruptures ties between the Kurds and Turks. The most recent example of the accident-prone official approach was the Uludere incident, where a group of young smugglers was bombed, killing 34, by war planes misled by inaccurate intelligence. The deaths are still a hot topic in public debate. The culprits have not been identified, nor was the process that led to this fatal mistake revealed for justice to take effect.
Given the public resentment, there is a strong argument that the government is attempting to divert the attention of the public to a pseudo-issue. It is claimed that at a time when the prime minister is vying for a presidential post, considering that the president will also be the commander-in-chief, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan needs the support of the new (AK Party-friendly) military brass that he carefully protects from public wrath.
Another theory is that, working with several polling firms, Erdoğan is systematically taking the pulse of the nation, and seeing that his popularity in the Kurdish provinces is waning. That is why he is trying to unite the conservatives and the religious right -- which constitute the majority in the country -- and mobilize them for his future quest for a strong presidency.
Given the fact that a multi-party commission (the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission) is presently working in Parliament to draft a new constitution within the framework of the existing parliamentary system, the prime minister’s drive to reform the presidential system will render these efforts null and void. This means that a new constitution will not be produced through this procedure. But there will be a constitution designed to incorporate a presidential system drafted and voted on by the AK Party majority in the legislature and later taken to a referendum. This will be the AK Party’s, or rather, Mr. Erdoğan’s, choice, based on a majority preference.
Will this be a democratic choice? It may be, in a way. Will this promote Turkey’s image as a model country for newly emerging non-Western democracies? You be the judge.