TURKEY – Health professionals slam government demand for names of women who have had abortions as part of “terror investigations”

Istanbul’s Provincial Directorate of Security has demanded the names of all the women who had abortions in Istanbul between January 2017 and May 2019 as part of “terror investigations” by September 13. The letter was sent to every public and private hospital across the city. They also demanded the names of all women aged 30-40 treated for polycystic ovary syndrome.

They claimed the information was necessary as part of ongoing investigations into membership of armed terrorist organisations, bribery and “insulting the president and state elders”. However, under Turkish law, information related to health and sexual life falls within the scope of “personal data of special quality”. This information is confidential and can only be given under certain conditions.

The Istanbul Medical Chamber warned that the move would damage the relationship between patients and clinicians. But the real question is: will the hospitals refuse to hand over the information.

In 2012, thousands of women successfully demonstrated against Erdogan’s plan to introduce a restrictive anti-abortion law, based on a claim that abortion was stalling Turkey’s economic growth. At that time, he branded abortion “murder.” Mr Erdogan insisted that women should only exist in the domestic sphere, dedicated to traditional roles such as cooking and household chores. In spite of the law itself remaining intact, however, it has become more and more difficult to get an abortion in a public hospital in Turkey, while the cost in a private hospital is unaffordable for so many.

A private hospital in Gaziantep, eastern Turkey, reported in January 2019: “We are not allowed to carry out abortions. The Ministry of Health forbids it.” Yet the federal authority contradicted this claim. One nurse told DW: “Fewer and fewer abortions are taking place in public hospitals. Some say that the women would be able to access them, but then the hospitals give women an appointment several weeks later. Hospitals that organize abortions can be put under pressure. The aim is to prevent abortions by altering the allocation of tasks within hospitals or by enforcing stricter controls of their budgets.”

According to a study by Kadir Has University in Istanbul, public hospitals in 53 of Turkey’s 81 provinces refuse an abortion if it comes only at the pregnant woman’s request. In the regions near the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, abortions are no longer permitted in any hospital. Across the entire country, only 7.8% of the total of 431 public hospitals allow abortions to be performed when solely at the request of the woman, despite the law allowing this in the first trimester, and 11.8% refuse outright.

SOURCES: The Morning Star, by Steve Sweeney, 10 September 2019 ; DW, by Burcu Karakas, 27 January 2019 ; PHOTO, by C McGrath, Getty Images, probably from 2012