Turkey aims to cut abortion numbers to boost demographics

By bne IntelliNews May 30, 2012

Justin Vela in Istanbul -

Backing up recent comments by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish health minister Recep Akdag announced on May 29 that the government aims to reduce the number of abortions performed in the country. The plan is part of a wider drive to boost Turkish demographics as it pushes to become a major economic force.

The announcement comes days after Erdogan declared himself opposed to a woman's right to choose, sparking outrage from women's rights groups. The PM described the practice as "murder" and likened it to a botched military air strike in December that killed 34 Kurdish civilians near the southeastern town of Uludere.

"Each abortion is one Uludere," Erdogan told a gathering of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) women's branches on May 25. He claimed that abortion was "a sneaky plan to wipe the country off the world stage."

Erdogan has long called on Turks to have at least three children in order to keep the country's population of 75m young and dynamic. Since 1983, abortion has been legal in Turkey up to 10 weeks from conception, with emergency abortions being allowed after that. Caesarean sections can be performed upon demand.

However, Erdogan is also gunning for C-sections, claiming that the procedure limits women's chances of giving birth to more than one child. He described caesarean births as "nothing more than a procedure to restrict and square a nation's population." No official has yet indicated who the government believes is behind the conspiracy.

"I am a prime minister who opposes caesarean births, and I know all this is being done on purpose," he said. "I know these are steps taken to prevent this country's population from growing further. I see abortion as murder, and I call upon those circles and members of the media who oppose my comments: You live and breathe Uludere. I say every abortion is an Uludere."

OECD figures from 2011 show that Turkey does have a high rate of caesarean births, about 40% more than in 2009. Only fellow emerging markets Brasil and China beats the country's rate of such operations. Figures also show abortion is on the rise, with 70,000 performed in 2011, compared with 60,000 two years earlier.

Erdogan has often expressed concern about Turkey's low birth rate, and has regularly tied sustaining the country's economic development to maintaining a young population.

Turkey has a fertility-rate of about 2.12 children per woman, just barely enough to replace its population, according to the OECD. In 1984, the fertility rate was about 3.9 children per women. Turkey's population was reported at 70.54m in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund, which forecasts it will expand to over 76m by 2015.

However, despite Erdogan's enthusiasm to accelerate those figures to help drive economic growth, there are several points of concern. In the first place, unemployment remains sticky as the economy moves from an agricultural model to an urban one, and Turkey's young population struggles to find jobs. Youth labour force participation is only around 40%. Turkey also has the lowest health spending per capita within the OECD.

That has done little to curb Erdogan's calls for emerging markets to swell their numbers however. The PM even advised Kazakstan premier Karim Massimov recently to copy the practice. "You know I [call for] at least three children to every couple in Turkey, but you should [call for] at least five," Erdogan said.

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