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Turkish Women on Trial for Protesting Plan to Restrict Abortion

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Four Turkish women went on trial today for staging an unauthorized protest outside the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against government plans to curb abortion, the Halkevleri activist group said.

The protesters face a maximum three years in prison if convicted by the court for the protest in Istanbul, said Sevinc Hocaogullari, an official at the group. More than 80 of its members are on trial for similar protests in the capital Ankara and the western city of Eskisehir, she said.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in June after Erdogan called abortion “murder.” Abortion is legal in predominantly Muslim Turkey until a maximum 10 weeks from conception, and Erdogan’s government said it was considering a proposal to ban the operation after four weeks except in emergencies. Parliament in July barred Caesarean sections unless women can prove there is a medical condition preventing them from giving birth naturally.

“It is our body, our choice, not the prime minister’s, the family’s or the husband’s,” Hocaogullari said, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party of attempting to ban abortion.

Health Minister Recep Akdag drew an angry response from women’s groups in June when he said the government could even take care of the babies of rape victims.

‘Cheap Labor’

Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkish families should have at least three children, and has argued that a large population will enable Turkey to provide a workforce for an ageing Europe if it’s granted European Union membership. Turkey’s current population is about 75 million, and its birth rate fell from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 1.3 percent in 2011, according to the official statistics agency.

“The prime minister wants cheap labor to compete with China,” said Hocaogullari.

Erdogan may also be concerned to balance the country’s ethnic demographics. Mothers in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey have an average of 3.4 children, higher than the national average of 2. The government has been fighting autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants for decades in a war that has killed nearly 40,000 people.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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