Mosque versus state in abortion debate

Turkey's prime minister has proposed a bill that would limit the right to abortion

Abortion has long been legal in Turkey, but the country’s prime minister would like to change that.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party—the AKP, as it is known by its Turkish initials—launched a culture war with women’s rights activists when he raised a government proposal that would prohibit all abortions after four weeks from conception (down from the 10 weeks currently allowed).

“Every abortion,” he said, “is murder.” A mother is “not really the owner of the baby in her belly,” added his religious affairs directorate chair. “She is a trustee with a duty to look after it.”

The roughly 3,000 women who flooded downtown Istanbul to protest last week disagree. Some see Erdogan’s new position on abortion as more evidence of closer ties to Turkey’s Islamist factions, from which the AKP draws its support; party authorities recently floated a ban on public alcohol consumption and proposed pink, women-only buses.

At least one commentator, however, sees in the debate a sign of progress: “Turkey is finally having a ‘normal’ culture war, one like in the U.S.,” says Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam Without Extremes. “The older culture war—over whether a woman [can] wear a head scarf and go to university—was abnormal.”