Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The draft of a controversial bill that will restrict or ban abortion in Turkey is to be submitted to the government next month, according to health minister Recep Akdag.

Following remarks by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who likened the practice to murder and vowed to outlaw all abortions that are not medically necessary, Akdag stressed that abortion should not be seen as a method of family planning.

Since 1983, abortion has been legal in Turkey for up to 10 weeks after conception, following which emergency terminations are only allowed to take place if medically required.

According to a report from the healthy ministry, if themoderate Islamist ruling party's bill is passed, the time limit for abortions will be reduced to four weeks, AFP reported.

"There is no difference in killing the foetus in a mother's womb or killing a person after birth," Erdogan said.

Erdogan also attacked caesarean births, saying they were "nothing more than a procedure to restrict and square a nation's population" because he believes that women who give birth that way are generally unable to have more than one more child.

Scientific studies deny that women who have a cesarean procedure may have problems conceiving and giving birth in future

Akdag argued that abortion was made legal after the 1980 military coup d'etat, without any public discussion of the issue having taken place.

He also said that the state will provide for unwanted babies conceived by rape. "People are asking about cases in which the mother has been through something bad," Akdag said. "If necessary, the state will look after such babies. If we are to pass a law that will call for tougher restrictions on abortion, we definitely have to take some complementary measures."

Turkish minister of family and social policies Fatma Sahin supported Erdogan's remarks.

"Abortion and ending pregnancy, which is what our prime minister called 'murder', is ending the pregnancy after ignoring birth control methods," she said. "If you destroy a life and have an abortion after you ignore birth control methods beforehand, then this is a violation of the right to live."

Ayhan Ustun Sefer, head of the Turkish parliament's human rights commission, described abortion as "a crime against humanity" and argued that "it is a delusion to consider that a baby's life begins only after a certain period of pregnancy".

The proposed bill has sparked outrage among women and civil rights group, who denounced the state's attempts to claim a woman's body. Turkey's Women for Women's Human Rights group warned that the right to an abortion is under threat.

"They are talking about changing the laws so that it can be done up to four weeks and only when there is a medical problem," the group's spokeswoman, Pinar Ilkkaracan, said. "But these four weeks is laughable. A lot of women will not understand they are pregnant in the first four weeks.

"We know very well it will go underground and then it cannot be monitored. If it's illegal, then it will be done under very unsafe conditions and many thousands of women will be dying from unsafe abortions every year."

The charity Rightful Women Platform urged the government to focus on measures to advertise contraceptive methods and to improve health services instead.

"We wish they would also notice that at least five women are killed every day and take preventive measures. We refuse any discussion on the rights that we have won," a statement by the charity said.

The Turkish Medical Association put the spotlight on the fact that restricting abortion would trigger a rise in illegal practices and push women to use primitive methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies. That would "dramatically increase" maternal mortality, they warned.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Erdogan not to bar access to abortion.

"Decades of access to legal abortion in Turkey are at risk," said Gauri van Gulik, global women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "If these statements are translated into legislation and policy, Turkey would take a leap backward on women's rights."

The charity warned that further restrictions on abortion would "threaten women's human rights to life, health, equality, privacy, physical integrity, and freedom of religion and conscience".