“It was as if society didn't want a woman to get an abortion”: a qualitative study in Istanbul, Turkey



      In 1983, abortion without restriction as to reason was legalized in Turkey. However, at an international conference in 2012, the Prime Minister condemned abortion and announced his intent to draft restrictive abortion legislation. As a result of public outcry and protests, the law was not enacted, but media reports suggest that barriers to abortion access have since worsened.


      We aimed to conduct a qualitative study exploring women's recent abortion experiences in Istanbul, Turkey.

      Study design

      In 2015, we conducted 14 semi-structured in-depth interviews with women aged 18 or older who had obtained abortion care in Istanbul on/after January 1, 2009. We employed a multimodal recruitment strategy and analyzed these interviews for content and themes using deductive and inductive techniques.


      Women reported on a total of 19 abortions. Although abortion care is available in private facilities, only one public hospital provides abortion services without restriction as to reason. Women who had multiple abortions in different facility types described quality of care more positively in the private sector. Unmarried women considered their marital status when making the decision to seek an abortion and reported challenges obtaining comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. All participants were familiar with the Turkish government's antiabortion discourse and believed that this was reflective of an overarching desire to restrict women's rights.


      Public abortion services in Istanbul are currently limited, and private abortion services are accessible but relatively expensive to obtain. Recent antiabortion political rhetoric appears to have negatively impacted access and service quality.


      This is the first qualitative study exploring women's experiences obtaining abortion services in Turkey since the proposed abortion restriction in 2012. Further research exploring the experiences of unmarried women and abortion accessibility in other regions of the country is warranted.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Contraception
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. Wynn L.L. Foster A.M. Abortion pills, test tube babies, and sex toys: emerging sexual and reproductive technologies in the Middle East and North Africa. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville2016
        • Hessini L
        Abortion and Islam: policies and practice in the Middle East and North Africa.
        Reprod Health Matters. 2007; 15: 75-84
        • Fisek NH
        Dirican R. Turkiye'de Nufus Planlamasi Calismalari, reprinted in 1998 in Kitaplasmamis Yazilari-II in – Ana Cocuk Sagligi, Nufus Sorunlari ve Aile Planlamasi. Turk Tabipleri Birligi Publications, Ankara1998: 171-172 ([as cited in Mihciokur, S, Akin, A, Dogan, BG, Ozvaris, SB. The unmet need for safe abortion in Turkey: a role for medication abortion and training of medical students, Reprod Health Matter 2015;S(44):26–35. DOI: 10.1016/S0968–8080(14)43790-X])
        • Hogan MC
        • Foreman KJ
        • Naghavi M
        • Ahn SY
        • Wang M
        • Makela SM
        • et al.
        Maternal mortality for 181 countries, 1980–2008: a systematic analysis of progress towards millennium development goal 5.
        Lancet. 2010; 375: 1609-1623
        • United Nations
        Turkey: abortion policy.
        ([accessed 24.04.2016])
        • Sert G
        • Güven T
        • Görkey Ş
        Medical law in Turkey.
        Kluwer Law International BV, Alphen aan den Rijn2011
        • Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies
        2013 Turkey demographic and health survey.
        Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, T.R. Ministry of Development and TÜBİTAK, Ankara, TR2014 ([, accessed 14.05.2016])
        • Green E
        Proposals to ban abortion in Turkey provoke protests.
        BMJ. 2012; 2012344: e4030
        • Letsch C
        Turkish law will make legal abortion impossible, say campaigners.
        The Guardian, 2013 ([, accessed 22.04.2016])
        • Letsch C
        Istanbul hospitals refuse abortions as government's attitude hardens.
        The Guardian, 2015 ([; accessed 24.04.2016])
        • Moraitis S
        Devil in detail: abortion drugs banned in Turkey.
        The Globe Times, 2012 ([; accessed 10.05.2016])
        • Badamchi DK
        Abortion and public reason in Turkey: a normative evaluation of the discourses of AKP and CHP.
        Turk Stud. 2014; 15: 45-61
        • Unal D
        • Cindoglu D
        Reproductive citizenship in Turkey: abortion chronicles.
        Women Stud Int Forum. 2013; 38: 21-31
        • Hürriyet Daily News
        Erdoğan insists on at least three children.
        ([accessed 10.05.2016])
        • Hürriyet Daily News
        Turkish PM Erdoğan reiterates his call for three children.
        ([accessed 10.05.2016])
        • Hürriyet Daily News
        Abortion banned in Turkish state hospitals, health group claims.
        ([accessed 10.05.2016])
        • Tremblay P
        Turkish law fails to protect women's right to choose.
        Al-Monitor, 2014 ([, accessed 10.05.2016])
        • TurkStat
        The results of address based population registration system 2015.
        ([accessed 12.05.2016])
        • Brookings Institution
        Global metro monitor.
        ([accessed 12.05.2015])
      2. Deniz N. Lincoln Y. The Sage handbook of qualitative research. 3rd ed. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA2005
        • Elo S
        • Kyngäs H
        The qualitative content analysis process.
        J Adv Nurs. 2008; 62: 107-115
        • Letsch C
        Turkish women join pro-choice rally as fears grow of abortion ban.
        The Guardian, 2012 ([; accessed 12.05.2016])
        • Acar F
        • Altunok G
        The ‘politics of intimate’ at the intersection of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism in contemporary Turkey.
        Women's Stud Int Forum. 2013; 41: 14-23
        • The Guardian
        Recep Tayyip Erdogan: ‘women not equal to men.
        ([accessed 12.05.2016])
        • Hürriyet Daily News
        Turkish president Erdoğan declares birth control ‘treason’.
        ([accessed 12.05.2016])
        • Huntington D
        • Dervişoğlu AA
        • Pile JM
        • Bumin Ç
        • Mensch B
        The quality of abortion services in Turkey.
        Int J Gynecol Obstet. 1996; 53: 41-49
        • Russell A
        6 in 10 Canadians support abortion under any circumstances: ipsos poll.
        Global News, 2016 ([; accessed 25.04.2016])
        • Ozan S
        • Timbil S
        • Aras S
        • Bilgin AC
        • Orcin E
        • Semin S
        Sexual attitudes, behaviour changes, and opinions of interns in Izmir.
        Turkey Eur J Contracep Repro. 2010; 15: 367-375
        • Turkish Statistical Institute
        ([accessed 13.05.2016])