Rapist's Gruesome Beheading Shows Turkish Dilemma On Abortion

  on
Turkish Leader Slams UN For 'Dangerous' Syria Inaction
Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

ISTANBUL -- The honor code of Turkey's rural Yalvac district, normally dictated by men, was turned upside down by a woman who decapitated her alleged rapist and tossed his head into the  square of the district's main village. 

"That is the head of the one who toyed with my honor," Nevin Y. yelled as police arrested her. 

The 26-year-old mother of two, whose full name has not been made public, claims she was blackmailed and raped for months by a man who made her pregnant, before she decided to seek revenge. She feared that if her rapist spread details of the attacks, her honor and the honor of her children would be compromised. Everyday in Turkey women are killed or tortured for defying these codes.

For Nevin, the burden of honor hasn't ended. As she enters the fifth month of her pregnancy, she falls under the legal restriction that prohibits abortions after 10 weeks. Turkey's abortion debate has been re-sparked as Nevin pleas with authorities, saying she would rather die than give birth to the child of her attacker.

"The extremity of Nevin's actions show the extent of the trauma the rape has caused," says Dr. Gürsel Öztunal? Kay?r of the Foundation for Women's Solidarity. " We shouldn't be distracted by the murder; if she wants to have an abortion following months of abuse, she should have the right."

But that is the very right that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been trying to limit. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called abortion "murder" and a practice that should be banned.The mayor of the capital Ankara, Melih Gökçek, echoed Erdogan's words, saying a mother who considered abortion should "kill her herself instead and not let the child bear the brunt of her mistake."

The comments spurred outrage among female activists, who took to the streets of major cities to protest the proposed ban and push abortion to the top of Turkey's political agenda. 

An AKP-sponsored bill to ban abortion entirely did not pass the Turkish parliament earlier this year, but new, tougher restrictions have been proposed, with the latest legislation calling for a three-year prison sentence for any woman who undergoes "medically unnecessary" abortions after the 10th week of pregnancy.

"Turkey is a complicated country. On the one hand, women are highly vocal and visible in many fields. On the other, politics and society are both male-dominated," said Elif Shafak, an acclaimed Turkish writer who recently wrote the book " Honour."  "Nevin's story projects a harsh light on the many ordeals women face in strictly patriarchal cultures where the notion of honor is far more important than equality, freedom, happiness or love", Shafak added. 

The most criticized element of the new abortion-restriction rules proposed in Turkey is the lack of consideration for rape victims. In June, the Turkish Minister of Health, Recep Akdag, said unwanted babies conceived through rape would be looked after by the state.  But what does this even mean for victims like Nevin, who bear the weight of trauma? Does Akdag propose that financial support is the solution? None of these questions have been answered by government officials. 

Akdag's remark was received by Turkish women with as much outrage as that of American women in reaction to Republican congressman Todd Akin, who claimed that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely got pregnant.  Both statements show proportions that highlight the extent of ignorance about the female reproductive system. But most of all, such statements bring out the conflicts that abortion produces within the very parties that are proposing the restrictions.  
Tangled in a web of exceptions such as rape or incest, very few policymakers can face the truth and definitively say whether abortion should be legal or illegal.

And it is the women who become trapped in this web. Women like Nevin, who have to go through physical and mental examinations, court hearings and rulings - and face the fact that by the time a decision is reached, they will have been left with no choice but pursue the pregnancy to term.

Join the Discussion