Don’t Ban Abortion in Turkey

2012-09-01 16:35:00’t-ban-abortion-in-turkey.html


by Dr. Nazila Isgandarova, Contributor

“Criminalizing or removing access to safe abortions is inappropriate and counter-productive... and very often force women to either risk their health with unregistered and unsafe practitioners in the backstreets, or to seek help abroad, restricting safe abortions to wealthy women,” Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, wrote for Today’s Zaman.

The suggestion offered by the author resonates well in the midst of the debates about the right of abortion for women in Turkey and invites the authorities to answer to these questions: What should be done? What should we do? What is right? What is good? When two values are in conflict, how do we reconcile them and/or move forward? What is the ethical Islamic point of view in regard to abortion? If it is haram (forbidden), what about the women who were subjects of rape? Who decides in the ethical decision making process? 

The drafts for an abortion ban in Turkey and the recent legislation on abortion raised many questions about whether abortion is a state issue or individual choice. Does the Turkish government have a right to ban it or keep it legal, as it has over the past forty years? 

Turkey is a Muslim country and the majority of Muslims turn to Islamic sources for advice. It is a well-known fact that Islam allows for abortion during the first 40 or 120 days of pregnancy. However, if a woman knows of her pregnancy only after 40 or 120 days, what would happen to this woman in society, where birth out of marriage is not supported? Or what about women who were subjects of rape?

Many Muslim countries struggled to answer these questions for decades. The 1994 war in Bosnia especially triggered debates about abortions, when the Bosnian authorities tried to help thousands of Bosniak women who had been subject to rape by Serbian soldiers. The question at that time was whether these women had the right to abortion. It also opened a broad discussion in the Islamic world. 

Islamic authorities issued rulings (fatwas) allowing women to abort and brought ease to these women. A similar fatwa was issued for Bosnian women raped by the Serbian army and Azerbaijani women raped by Armenian soldiers, allowing them to abort the unwanted pregnancies. This was based on a similar fatwa, which was issued in Algeria, when Algerian women were subject to rape by French soldiers. Later on, Muhammad Saeed Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, approved a draft of laws allowing women to abort a pregnancy that was the result of a rape. 

According to these laws, these women are allowed to prevent pregnancy using the morning after pill or RU486 to prevent the possible implantation of a fertilized ovum. His decision caused controversy among other Muslim scholars. A mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa for instance, later on said that Tantawi's decision was wrong and violated the Quran's injunction that forbids killing innocent souls. 

Islamic ethics helps people and professionals solve ethical problems, issue or dilemmas when the religious authorities hold different views about the issue. Ethics is concerned with helping people do what they believe to be right and decide what is right. 

The principle of “the least harm” in Islamic ethics needs to be considered as a main ethical principle in any discussion about abortion. In the previous example of unwanted pregnancies after rape, we are faced with problems with no positive choices but are obliged to choose the option that will result in the least harm, the least permanent harm, or the most easily reversible harm. This is an ethical dilemma involving a difficult choice between two alternatives that can be equally welcome or equally unwelcome, and it is not clear which choice will be the right one. The dilemma involves action and a choice to be made, and moral agents can feel remorse and regret over the decision made or taken. However, the earlier statement of Turkish Minister of Health Recep Akdag was very controversial and against the fatwas (Islamic rulings) about rape and abortion. In his statement, Mr. Recep Akdag mentioned that the only possible burden for a rape victim with a baby is financial, denying the distress and depression of rape. 

Islam teaches that ethics is not being right or wrong, black or white. God allows us to make the worst decisions because it is part of the process of making better decisions. The better ethical decisions are based on the principles of the sanctity of human life. In situations where there is an ethical dilemma, the lesser of the two evils is important. This is the principle of al-ahamm wa 'l-muhimm (the more important and the less important). 

Islam instructs that it is God who gives life, provides sustenance, and takes it back (the Quran, 30:4, 50:4, and 67:2). In this regard, the discussions around abortion are also about the debate over the dignity of human life. 

Muslims believe that life is a precious gift from God but humans are responsible for how they use this gift. Humans are responsible for preserving their life and the lives of others. Therefore, Islam allows abortion only when doctors declare that the pregnancy will endanger a woman's life. 

It is narrated that the Prophet said, “When two forbidden things come [upon a person] together, then the lesser will be sacrificed for the greater.” In this case, a woman who was raped chooses between either aborting the unborn child or living in suffering. Obviously, Islam first of all gives preference to the latter and abortion is allowed to save the living person and eliminate the suffering of the woman. The Qur’an (2:233) also commands that: “A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child.” In this regard, Islam emphasizes not only preserving life but also the quality of life, and different Islamic schools have different positions in this respect. 

However, there are few problems here. First, some Islamic schools are more liberal than others. For instance, the Hanafi school which is prevalent in Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia, and Shafi school which is dominant in Southeast Asia, southern Arabia, and parts of East Africa, allow abortions to be performed up to day 120. The Maliki school (prevalent in North and sub-Saharan Africa) and the Hanbali school (predominant in Saudi Arabia and United Arabic Emirates) allow abortions until day 40. Some Shiite groups, such as the Ismailis, do not permit abortions to take place at all. Other Shiite groups such as the Zaydites allow abortions to be performed up to day 120. The Grand Mufti of Jordan, Shaykh 'Abd Allah Al-Qalqili, issued a fatwa in 1964 in which he said that a method for “the prevention of childbearing is allowed. Doctors of religion inferred from this that it is permissible to take a drug to prevent childbearing, or even to induce abortion. We confidently rule in this fatwa that it is permitted to take measures to limit childbearing.” 

As we see, Islam has not given any precise directions with regard to the issue of abortion. Islam, as the religion of pristine nature, has never been opposed to what is good to man. Indeed it has always been ahead in the effort toward the achievement of good so long as it is not in conflict with the purposes of divine law. Islamic legislation is directed toward the avoidance of harm and seeks the best interest of humanity, and this principle is derived from the prophetic saying “No hurt, no damage in Islam.” 

The second problem in terms of saving lives and right for abortion arises when women and lawmakers do not share the same values. For example, according to the adopted abortion legislation, those who are under fifteen years old and are the subject of rape may be entitled to abortion under a court decision. However, a pregnant woman is allowed an abortion unless there is a medical emergency within ten weeks of conception, otherwise it is criminalized and those who undergo an abortion after ten weeks of pregnancy will be face up to three years in prison. 

From the state’s perspective, as Maud de Boer-Buquicchio argued, “banning or limiting abortions looks like a simple and efficient way to boost the birth rate and hence guarantee a robust future workforce...” But from the women’s perspective, an abortion ban does more harm than good. First, those who want an abortion will find many ways to do it. Women, who can afford abortion trips, will terminate their pregnancies in the hospitals of neighboring countries, especially in Bosnia, Cyprus or Britain. Women with less financial resources will use unsafe methods at the hands of unqualified practitioners. Second, abandoned babies and children, financially burdened families and unhealthy individuals, especially women, will cost more to the health institutions and social services of the state. 

Therefore, criminalizing abortion in Turkey will do more harm and damage to women and their families, and is not the right choice. The pro-life approach of the government may sound morally right, but it may not be politically, socially or economically advantageous.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Journal of Turkish Weekly


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