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Aborting Autonomy: Republican Policies and Depoliticisation of Abortion in Turkey

Open Panel

Abstract

Although female sexuality has been closely monitored and disciplined by the state and state-endorsed patriarchal family in Turkey, abortion has been a common procedure and a “depoliticized” issue within the Turkish context. Legalization of abortion in Turkey in 1983 and its amendment in 2005 took place without much public or political debate, abortion never mapping into the political or social agenda unlike most other Western and non-Western contexts alike. This paper inquires why abortion evolved as a “depolitical” issue in Turkey although regulation of female sexuality has been an important tenet of Turkish legal and social order. Two arguments can be made to answer this puzzle, the first being that abortion having been understood more as a “medical” procedure of birth control since late 19th century in the Ottoman and Turkish societies. However, there also exists a socio-legal reason critical for understanding why abortion evolved as a “depolitical” issue within the Turkish domain. Unlike Western contexts where abortion is framed as a political question of “choice”, abortion in Turkey served the purpose of perpetuating patriarchal norms over female sexuality. Rather than becoming a matter of female autonomy, abortion has been legally formulated and practiced so that it has served the reproduction of existing gendered social hierarchies in Turkey. Furthermore, abortion has been understood implicitly to be an “indispensible” resort for concealing women’s transgressions from “legitimate” (male-administered) female sexuality, thus helping to maintain the image of patriarchal norms over female sexuality intact.