It is vital to consider family planning services within the framework of gender equality and develop a perspective that supports women.
The right to abortion has been the most contested topic in recent years regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women have once again reclaimed ownership of their bodies with the slogan “my body, my choice”. Needless to say, women’s ownership of their bodies is not limited to the issue of abortion. Ownership of the body also covers decisions regarding how often to conceive, how many children to have, preferring to be or not to be a mother. Precisely because of this, it is vital to consider family planning services within the framework of gender equality and develop a perspective that supports women.
In the briefest and simplest definition of the term, family planning is the ability of individuals and/or couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the healthy spacing and timing of their births. Even though it is often thought of as a method of limiting the number of births, family planning services also include individuals who don’t have children. The decision to bear a child is a pivotal one, especially when you take into account factors such as the socioeconomic status and the physical and mental maturity of the individuals involved. It is crucial for women to receive family planning services while making this important decision considering the roles imposed on them by gender inequality; possible physical, emotional, and mental changes prior to and after the birth; the labor of childcare that follows the birth and the accompanying state of alienation stemming from taking time off from education, work, and domestic life.
Reverberations of bio-politics in daily life directly threaten women’s sexual/reproductive health. Bio-political claims which we often come across in anti-abortion statements are also targeting family planning and contraception methods. To give a few examples: In May 2016 President Erdoğan said “We will multiply our descendants, no Muslim family should consider birth control or family planning.” ; in May 2019 he said “They’ve promoted birth control, family planning, our population decreased because of these steps. I don’t approve this,” ; in June 2019 he said, “Unfortunately for years, they’ve promoted birth control in this country, they’ve attempted to drive our nation to extinction,” . These statements exclude couples who can’t have children from family planning. Furthermore, the services for those not willing to have children, willing to space their births and plan them are also dismissed in these remarks. The most recent statement took place on 20 February at the Council on Aging. Erdoğan asserted that the population in Turkey is aging and for “countries like us”, having a dynamic and young population is an “obligation”: “(…) The population of senior citizens is expected to increase over the years and double by 2040. This is exactly why I advise couples to have at least three children -or more if possible- at every wedding ceremony I attend. (…) We are obliged to do this, because we need a dynamic and young population.”
In contrast with these statements and the attendant bio-politics, research conducted in the field points to a deficiency. According to the report published by Turkey Demographic and Health Survey at Hacettepe University in 2018 , the unmet demand for family planning services such as spacing and limiting the number of births has increased from %6 to %12 between the years 2013-2018. Additionally, the need for family planning is increasing in proportion with women lacking education and the relevant information that is also stemming from gender inequality. In the year 2020, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there have been many setbacks in accessing first step health care services, and with outpatient clinics almost suspending services entirely, a lot of individuals’ access to family planning services have been interrupted. On top of that, regular monitoring and medical examination services for women’s health have also been interrupted. According to the Being a Woman During the Pandemic report published by Women for Women’s Human Rights New Ways, six out of every 10 women were unable to attend their gynecological exams. Women who want to go to the Family Health Centers (FHC) for contraceptives can easily be turned down due to lack of birth control tools such as condoms, birth control pills, and IUDs. Furthermore, the fact that FHC practices lack standardization, creates inequalities in individuals’ access to services. All of these factors result in unplanned and unspaced pregnancies and the accompanying complications such as urinary incontinence, uterine prolapse, miscarriages and the exhaustion of resources that nurture the body. Consequently, women experience a lot of health problems. Their quality of life suffers. As a result, their access to various spheres of life is limited.
On the one hand, a series of political statements is made, ignoring women’s ownership of their bodies −the bodies that will go through the gestation period, give birth, and face potential health risks−, health and participation in life; solely defining women through motherhood and the act of care. On the other hand, women are left face to face with realities such as abortion being literally “banned” in public hospitals, the lack of standardization and regularization of family planning services. This overall reality leads women into unintended pregnancies which then leads them to having abortions. Due to the lack of access to abortion and family planning services, a lot of women are eventually “obliged” to give birth as the “generators of dynamism”.
Women’s bodies belong to women and it is up to their free will whether they want to have children, give birth or not. The real obligation in the picture is to meet women’s demands concerning their ownership of their bodies.
 https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/erdogan-dogum-kontrolunu-dogru-bulmuyorum-1373841  https://tr.sputniknews.com/turkiye/201905021038930108-erdogan-aile-mefhumu-ortadan-kalkmis-bir-toplum-ne-kadar-zengin-olursa-olsun-ayakta-kalamaz/
 https://www.ntv.com.tr/turkiye/bizim-gibi-ulkeler-icin-nufus-guctur,Oi7K0Bfyr0Ozo1UqQ7wH9w  http://www.hips.hacettepe.edu.tr/tnsa2018/rapor/TNSA2018_ana_Rapor.pdf
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan
For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için