Even though it’s legal to end unwanted pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, we still are unable to freely exercise this right.


Abortion in the New Turkey: A Single Woman’s Experience


Strange things were happening to my body: stomachache, nausea, a high temperature. At home they’d touch my skin and say, “You feel so hot, do you have a fever or something?” Well, I didn’t have a fever, but I was hot. It was like fire was shooting out from under my feet. And the pain in my stomach… Then the exhaustion set in. I was so tired, so sleepy that I couldn’t even get out of bed. It got worse and worse, but most annoying of all was that everyone in the house noticed, especially my mom. Now it started gnawing at me, that question: “I wonder if…” But then I’d tell myself it was just PMS.


I was constantly talking to my boyfriend, and we kept trying to convince ourselves, but especially me, that the pregnancy scenario couldn’t be real. But in fact, having read up on the Internet about early signs of pregnancy and comparing them with the changes happening to my body, I was already convinced I was pregnant. And at the same time, I was reading news and discussions about the practice of abortion in Turkey over the last several years. According to a 2016 study conducted by women’s organizations in 12 provinces, throughout all of Turkey, there were only 9 hospitals in Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir that performed legal, voluntary abortions. But I couldn’t find anything about how “single” women wanting to get an abortion were actually treated. This whole oppressive scenario had a bad effect on me, and my body was racked with worry.


I got a pregnancy test from the drugstore, and it only took a few seconds for the two reddish lines to show up on the white plastic. Now, there in that place where all my hope rested in seeing just a single line, I saw those two reddish lines. I was pregnant! Now that senseless pain in my stomach, the one that made it feel like I was being hollowed out, suddenly made sense. I was petrified. I don’t even remember just what I did then, or how. My shaking hands got rid of the evidence: my family confined sexuality to the institution of marriage, and if they found out that I’d even taken a pregnancy test, let alone that it’d turned out positive, things would have gotten ugly…


I turned to two close friends, women for whose presence in my life I thanked the universe every day, and to my boyfriend. The hormones combined with the stress sent my nausea through the roof. This body of mine had been trying to let me know for days, but I hadn’t been listening. In panic, I thought about going right then and there to get an abortion in one of those 9 hospitals in one of those 3 cities jampacked with people. I called a private hospital and they said, “We do not perform abortions except in cases where the mother’s or baby’s health is in jeopardy.” This didn’t surprise me, but it made me angry. I already knew that certain hospitals and doctors arbitrarily restricted women’s access to abortion even though it was a legal right. It was something that’d been an issue for years—but to suddenly be the subject of this issue myself was different. I managed to tell that voice on the phone, “It’s not a baby, I’m not a mother, and I want an abortion.” And the voice said, “Ma’am, it is prohibited!” I couldn’t manage to tell that voice that, in Turkey, abortion is legal through the 10th week of pregnancy. I panicked again. There was a week left till the holiday—in that time would I be able to find any doctor who’d do an abortion?


Talking it over with my two female friends and my boyfriend, we realized that I couldn’t do this on my own, not in the city where I was and not while I was living with my family. We started looking for a reliable doctor and clinic in Ankara. We ruled out private and state hospitals so my information wouldn’t go into the government’s records. One of my female friends handled making the appointment. We put together the money needed for the abortion. When I met up with my boyfriend at the bus station, we just hugged each other without saying a word. He was sad, too, you could see it in his eyes. But me, besides my physical pain and discomfort, what I was experiencing was the pressure and anxiety of being a single pregnant women in the AKP’s Turkey, which had step by step embraced Islamic conservatism and authoritarianism. I slept all through the bus ride. My pains and nausea went with me the whole way. The appointment was at 10 in the morning. The three of us went to the doctor’s office together: me, my boyfriend, and the friend who’d made the appointment and been by my side for so many years. The secretary directed us to the waiting room; the doctor hadn’t arrived yet. I was tense. I felt sick to my stomach. I started looking around, examining my surroundings. Then the door opened and a female patient came in. Then another came, and another, and soon the waiting room was full.


When the doctor came the secretary called me over, and the three of us got up and followed the secretary down the hall to the last room. There were three people in the room: a young woman standing in a white apron; a woman in her fifties wearing a white apron and sitting in a chair behind the examination table; and another woman also in her fifties who was sitting in an armchair and who I’d soon learn was the anesthesiologist. The doctor told me to lie back on the table and show her my belly down to the groin area. She also asked me my name, surname, and phone number. My answers came out staccato as I was lying down on the table. As I was struggling to expose my belly, the secretary just pulled down my pants and underwear. For them, this was all routine, all in a day’s work—but for me it was the first time, and I was scared. I was bothered by how someone I didn’t know had just exposed me like that, without even asking. As the doctor approached me, the anesthesiologist started talking: “I’m the anesthesiologist. You haven’t eaten, have you?” There were a few more questions, too. The doctor looked at my belly with the ultrasound. I didn’t even think about turning my head to look at the screen just to my right. Then the doctor sat back down saying, “Okay, you can get up. Your period’s maybe a week late.” I sat up, and as I was saying that yes, it was 5 or 6 days late, I saw the screen. Whatever was still there inside me was up there on that screen. It was a little bigger than a pea. I was startled when I saw it, but not because I was thinking, “I have a life inside me” or anything like that. No, it was because now the reality was right there in front of me, destroying my last hope that maybe, just maybe, the pregnancy test had been wrong.


We went back to the waiting room. On the doctor’s orders, since I’d never given birth before, the secretary gave me six pills to put under my tongue and relax my vaginal opening. After giving me the pills, she very nonchalantly said, “Let’s take care of the bill,” and then she added, “Put on a pad.” We paid the bill and started waiting. I think the other women who’d come in after me went through the same procedure. As each of them came out of the examination room, the secretary asked them to pay and told them to put on a pad. None of them counted out the money, they just handed the secretary a stack of bills that they’d already gotten ready. Nobody was asking for or getting a receipt or any kind of medical confidentiality agreement. We were all just silently agreeing, “Let’s keep this between us.” Nearly every one of the women in that room on that day was there for an abortion.


About an hour later the secretary came over and called my name. We walked to the room where the procedure would take place and I went in alone. I took off my clothes and the nurse gave me a green gown. I lay down and put my legs in the stirrups. The nurse tied down my arms and legs. A little later the anesthesiologist came in. She was a kind, gentle woman. She talked to me, calming me down while she opened a vein. When she saw the tears in my eyes, she asked me if I wanted to go through with it. Firmly and without hesitation, I said, “Yes I do, but I’m scared.” A few seconds after she administered the anaesthesia my face started to go numb—and after that, nothing.


When I woke up I was sitting in an armchair. My friend was next to me and my boyfriend was holding my hand. They were both looking at me. My belly hurt. I don’t remember anything—how long it took, how they got me dressed, how they got me into that room, how they sat me down in that chair. We waited a bit for me to fully come to. The secretary and the doctor came in and started hinting it was time for us to go: “Everything you need to know is written down here, and you can call us if there’s anything else. Here’s a prescription, you start on antibiotics tomorrow, now come on, it’s time to go, get well soon!”


For about ten days after the procedure, I was weirdly emotional and irritable. I would lie down on my bed and start silently crying, though for what I didn’t know. I still had a pain in my belly. When I went back home two days later my mom took one look at my swollen eyes and pale face and freaked out: “Are you sick?!?” I wanted to tell her, “No, Mom, I’m not sick, I had an abortion and I’m in pain, I’m in agony.” But I didn’t. I just stayed quiet or else told her some lie. I didn’t get mad at myself for lying, since I myself wasn’t the real reason I had to lie. If we women are forced to lie in order to hide our pains and wounds from those around us, just because they don’t fit the norms of the patriarchy, then it’s not we who are responsible, it’s the hypocritical, sexist society that’s responsible! Ha!


I had spent 4 weeks worrying about whether or not I was pregnant and about 3 days knowing I was pregnant. In the process, I witnessed what hormones can do to a body, what they did to my body. So all that cliché stuff we see in movies is true after all. The emotions and irritability so many of us think of as some social fiction doesn’t always have to be fiction. Of course, every woman’s body and pregnancy may be different. But in my case, I saw with great intensity the effect of hormones having their way with my body however they pleased. And beyond my body, and much more seriously, I saw how dreadful the institutional effects of an anti-feminist, misogynistic, conservative ideology can be. Even though it’s legal to end unwanted pregnancies of up to 10 weeks—pregnancies that happen for all sorts of different reasons—we still are unable to freely exercise this right. Only a few hospitals here and there perform abortions, but a lot of us avoid these hospitals so we don’t get registered with the government as women who have had abortions. For that moment, and for our own security, we’re pushed toward places that look relatively reliable yet don’t keep records about abortions, toward clinics that themselves are being pushed more and more underground all the time. Everything I experienced was a kind of punishment meted out to anyone at variance with the conservative values that the AKP has dreamed up and is working to foist on society.



Image: Milton Avery


View the original article in Turkish here.

Bir de bunlar var

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