Non-emergency abortion in Turkey: free in theory, banned in practice

Although abortion is legal in Turkey until the 10th week of pregnancy and can be extended in case a woman's or a fetus’s life is in danger, in practice, it is effectively banned, Deutsche Welle Turkish reported on Friday.

While the Ministry of Health says non-emergency abortions are free as long as there are no medical problems, none of the state hospitals Deutsche Welle reached confirmed this. While some hospitals said emergency terminations were possible, some said it depended on the doctor examining the patient. 

“Abortion has gradually ended in state hospitals. Some say ‘we perform abortions’, but schedule a date weeks later. Some hospitals performing abortions can face pressure,” a nurse named Nurşen told DW.

The nurse said, in one incident, a woman, who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, had applied to a state hospital that she was working for, determined to terminate the pregnancy. “Chief nurse and chief physician went to the woman’s house to convince her to give birth. And she did,” Nurşen said.

Another nurse, who had worked in the delivery unit of a state hospital for two and a half years, said they had directed patients to private hospitals. “Non-emergency termination was not provided in our hospital. They could only be performed when requested by a staff member,” she said. 

A gynaecologist in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı district told DW that lots of women other cities had been coming to his clinic for an abortion. “It was performed free of charge in state hospitals in the past, now you have to pay to private service providers,” the physician said

On average, patients pay 900 lira ($169) for abortion up to six weeks and charged an extra 100 lira ($19) for each additional week. 

Another gynaecologist working at a state hospital said that the state did not pay non-emergency abortions and therefore the hospitals avoided performing them. 

Turkish government’s domestic policies aiming to increase the birth rate is one of the reasons for the effective ban on non-emergency abortions, Şule Dursun, an expert of the Turkey Family Planning Foundation, said.

“Turkey’s shift the conservatism is also visible in the health system. On one side women are not informed, on the other side, there is a ban on abortion. Women are oppressed from all sides,” Dursun said. 

Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly compared abortion to murder. "There is no difference in killing the fetus in a mother’s womb or killing a baby after birth,” he once said in 2012. 

A 2016 report on abortions in state hospitals published by the Kadir Has University said only 7.8 percent of the state hospitals performed non-emergency abortions, while 11.8 percent did not terminate pregnancies at all.