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Turkey's Abortion Debate Rekindled By Gruesome Decapitation

Posted: 09/04/2012 7:35 pm

When residents of Turkey's Yalvac district woke up to find a severed head in the middle of their village square, they were not as shocked by the body part as they were by its gender: a male.

In rural parts of Turkey it is not uncommon for women's body parts to be butchered in the name of honor. Even rape victims are killed and tortured for tainting the code, which is why locals of Yalvac could not fathom that their neighbor, a woman, shot and decapitated her attacker.

Nevin. Y, a 26-year-old mother of two, claims she was raped and blackmailed for months, before she took revenge. Some will call it murder, others will call it justice, but for us Turkish women the heart of the matter is at the result: the pregnancy.

Five months pregnant and past her first trimester, Nevin is pleading with authorities to allow her to have an abortion, even though she falls under legal restrictions that prohibit the procedure after 10-weeks of pregnancy.

"That is the head of the one who toyed with my honor," she yelled as police arrested her. "I'll give up my life for his baby to be aborted."

And so Turkey's dilemma on abortion continues with the added complexity of whether the right should be granted to a rape victim who also happens to be a murder suspect.

"Murder" was the term that sparked the abortion debate in the first place, when it was used by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to define abortion, which he referred to it as an insidious plan that needs to be restricted altogether.

Abortion has been legal in Turkey for almost 40 years, albeit only for pregnancies up to 10 weeks and emergency abortions for medical complications that occur after that.

Protests against the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) draft law to ban abortion played a big role in reversing the decision, but new tougher restrictions have been proposed with the latest legislation calling for a three-year prison sentence for any woman who undergoes "medically unnecessary" abortions after the 10th week of pregnancy.

When it comes to rape victims, the Turkish Minister of Health, Recep Akdag, says the state will look after unwanted babies conceived through rape. But what does that even mean for Nevin? To her, the financial burden of her pregnancy is irrelevant. Nevin's core motivation for a termination is not only to protect herself from the emotional strain but it is to protect her honor as well as the honor of her children -- a code that she believes will be compromised should she bear the child of her attacker.

"The story projects a harsh light on the many ordeals women face in strictly patriarchal cultures where "honor" is far more important than equality, freedom, happiness or love," Elif Safak an internationally acclaimed Turkish writer told me while talking about Nevin's case.

"Because she has passed the legal period of time for abortion, I don't think she will be able to have an abortion. It is important that the child is protected and loved and raised as a free individual. But who will do that?" Shafak asks.

Ultimately Nevin's fate is left in the hands of men, and once it is decided upon, who will look after a rape victim and her children in a society where women are punished for the crime?

It is those that adopt this mentality that should be punished, the perpetrators of rape rather than the victims and all those that look for honor in the wrong places.

The solution is not to impose legal restrictions and push the practice of abortion underground; it is to educate our women about sex and contraception while also teaching them about the sanctity of life, so that they have the capacity and right to make a choice that is healthiest for them.

 

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