In December 2011 Turkish army jets bombed and killed 34 Turkish Kurdish civilians. For the most part the government has ignored this incident, which activists term Uludere massacre. In June 2012 a few but important voices began to surface in public and Turkish media, calling on the government to prosecute the culprits and force them to apologize for the killings.
Since the massacre, officials have made some irresponsible comments to blame the victims for their deaths. Prime Minister Erdogan took the approach one step further by changing the subject and publicly stating that “abortion is murder”. The comment had its intended effect, as suddenly the entire nation forgot the Uludere massacre and began to debate abortion. For his effort, we ought to congratulate Erdogan for his talent in manipulating Turkey’s agenda, public interests and concerns.
Initially I did not intend to join the debate, as politicians were using abortion as a diversion to ignore what happened at Uludere. I changed my mind when the government announced plans to revise abortion laws in Turkey (at present a woman may obtain a legal abortion until the 10th week of gestation). I saw that the abortion debate was becoming a legislative item supported by fundamentalist groups in Turkey.
So I shall discuss abortion here. I believe that abortion, regardless of its moral ambiguity, is a procedure that often preserves life. For example, if a nine year old girl becomes pregnant after being raped by her stepfather, doctors should perform an abortion to protect her life. Life is not only a biological mechanism, but a phenomenon that encompasses social, psychological and emotional aspects.
While clearly not all abortions happen in extreme circumstances, as mentioned above, they are life saving for many women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. In this sense, the choice of abortion supports a prolife method. I do not understand why there should be any dispute about a woman's personal choice to avoid a biological process that would threaten her life or wellbeing.
If a foetus is not a person, I see no reason to label abortion murder or illegal. I am not alone as a Muslim holding this view. In fact, Islamic jurisprudence maintains diverse views on abortion. For centuries, many jurists and sects have declared abortion legal, though not morally preferable. The Sunni Muslim school of thought Hanafi applies this stance to the first 120 days of gestation, as does Shiite Zaydis; and Sunni Hanbali for the first 40 days. Generally however, most Sunni Muslims believe that abortion is not murder until a foetus becomes a person.
Muslim scholars who do not find abortion permissible in general do not equate it with murder. Opinions about abortion have varied among them, but they treat abortion on a case by case basis, accepting that the nature of its moral ambiguity changes with circumstance. This reasoning has led even the strictest of religious sects to find abortion legal in some cases. This flexibility of reason makes Muslim views on abortion diverse and quite different from the more rigid Catholic view.
Even so, current Muslim opinions on abortion have become quite conservative compared to rulings of passed centuries. Why is this so? From what I have observed, many Muslims do not review ancient literature when they engage in popular debates. This predisposes them to adopt conservative views they find in Western references. This happens also with discussions about evolution.
When Erdogan commented publicly about abortion, he also claimed that “there is an ardent struggle against abortion in America”. He manipulated his words carefully to not reference the Koran or Islamic thought, but to indirectly mention conservative religious groups in the United States. This shows that anti-choice groups in the US have transcended national borders to influence laws in other countries. There is danger here, because the effort to prevent a woman from seeking a safe abortion is inherently misogynist. Arguably it carries even an element of colonial attitude.
The issue creates a new platform for Muslim feminists. Now, more than ever, we must gain knowledge of our traditions and sociocultural roots. This will prepare us to argue with strong reason, and stop repressive views from influencing our political landscape. In this way, we will add religious experience and heritage valour to our sensible and scientific arguments.
Kubra Guven prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.