Women, choices, politician and dad

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?

Crazy Turkish reality

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.

Every unwanted pregnancy is one too many

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.

Risks are often being downplayed

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.

Young 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.

10 replies
  1. JGibbs
    JGibbs says:

    I think you are right on the money about Şahin. He is there for a reason–how could he not be in a country where unwanted people disappear from their jobs very quickly? And clearly, he is expressing an opinion that is far more the norm than the others would like us to believe.

  2. Catherine Yigit
    Catherine Yigit says:

    Well said Frederike!
    Ireland has no abortion, every Irish woman who wants/needs one has to travel to the UK. Seeing how Turkey deals with abortion in a mature and adult way gave me hope. Hearing Erdogan give out about them makes me so very mad. It’s clear he’s just jumping on the US conservatives bandwagon. If it wasn’t a topic over there I doubt he’d have said anything!

  3. Candide
    Candide says:

    Actually I was not going to comment after your totalitarian approach on http://www.journalistinturkey.com/blogs/women-choices-politician-and-dad_3145/ by telling me that it is your reign here and if my comments does not please you then I should start my own blog business bidiblah. “You are blind I am not” rhetoric is another story and I will not get into it.

    Anyway… 🙂

    What Erdogan is doing has two dimensions :
    1. He is manipulating the current agenda of Turkey and diluting the Uludere case with a controversial topic. So trying to gain some time.
    2. He is sending some messages to his base voters and keep them happy. Actually he’s getting more radical by time (if we do some comparison by the past) because he is in more trouble than the past…

    Yes you are right there are some characters in AKP (cabinet) like Egemen Bagis, Bülent Arınç and Naim Şahin, who has some extra duties like telling stupid/extreme things so the attention of the public can be oriented on some nonsense. It is a working strategy since it creates a quickly changing agenda and nobody can track what happened two weeks ago. But of course there are some guys in the Turkish media pointing at that issue so your comment “Nobody even touches on the possibility that this kind of remark is exactly why Sahin is in the government” is not completely correct.

    Finally it is not “Crazy Turkish reality” but “Crazy AKP reality”. Yes AKP got the %49.9 (or so) votes in the last elections but still it is not enough to derive a conclusion that AKP = Turkey 😉

  4. Elif
    Elif says:

    I’m absolutely with you with everything you’ve said which are already obvious to any thinking mind.

    Except, as a journalist, you’ve shouldn’t let a very important information half defined that you use “as a supporting side information” for your article. “the civilians who were killed” were transpassing the border, where terrorist attacks occur daily.

    Whenever a journalist does that; I feel like he/she in fact wants to create a “reality” by misinformation and/or disinformation.

  5. Fréderike Geerdink
    Fréderike Geerdink says:

    Elif, please, what a nonsense. I have written extensively about what happened in Uludere, you can read that all here on this site, I am of course not getting deeper into the matter in a post that is about Erdoğans remarks about abortion and caersarean sections. To accuse me of giving too little info about Uludere is insane.
    And Candide, it’s the crazy Turkish reality. The nationalist reality that makes this possible.

  6. Candide
    Candide says:


    I was talking about “Interior Minister Sahin made very rude and totally unacceptable remarks about the Uludere massacre”.

    His words created a lot of reaction even inside the AKP.
    Not stepping down after a scandal can be Turkish reality
    Uludere and similar incidents can be Turkish reality
    but a person like Sahin and what he said is AKP’s reality (or if we go a bit broad maybe we can say reality of AKP and its ancestor parties)…

    So I disagree. Hope I’ll not be accused as being blind again…

  7. JGibbs
    JGibbs says:

    Even crazier–anyone seen this crap? Not only is abortion a foreign plot. So is Uludere. Hurriyet says, In further remarks yesterday, Erdoğan insisted that the unrelenting debate over the botched strike was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to tarnish the government, which, he said, is being backed by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as well as the Turkish media and foreign media linked to “Jewish lobbies.” ARE PEOPLE HERE REALLY THIS CRAZY???


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] and Kilicdaroglu speak out about these things? We know how Erdogan deals with Uludere – read more here and here. Erdogan supports the KCK trials and does so rather passionately. Kilicdaroglu never spoke […]

  2. […] article is originally published at journalistinturkey.com. Reprinted here with permission. Share […]

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