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Turkey bans trips abroad for artificial insemination

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul

Veiled woman in Istanbul
Turkish citizens cannot conceal the paternity of their children

A new law passed in Turkey has made it a criminal offence for a woman to go abroad and get pregnant via artificial insemination.

Artificial insemination is already illegal, but women have until now been able to go overseas to seek sperm donors.

Now they will face punishment of one to three years in prison for doing so.

Doctors and lawyers say they are trying to find out how the government plans to enforce the law.

All sorts of activities can land you in court, and possibly in jail, in Turkey.

Insulting "Turkishness", taking part in demonstrations, or showing the slightest sympathy for the banned Kurdish Workers' Party, for example.

Now you can add to that long list the crime of using a foreign sperm donor.

Paternity concerns

Artificial insemination is already illegal in Turkey. Doctors offering fertility treatment here have to make that clear in their advertising.

But women have until now been able to seek sperm donors overseas without fear of prosecution.

We spent years fighting to improve the law so that it would properly protect women's autonomy over their bodies and sexuality
Pinar Ilkkaracan
Women's rights campaigner

However, a new regulation, quietly published nine days ago by the Turkish Health Ministry, states that any clinics, doctors or patients who use, or encourage the use of, overseas sperm banks will be reported to state prosecutors and face possible criminal charges.

Clinics will be closed down, for three months at first and then permanently if the offence is repeated.

A spokesman at the Department of Health, Irfan Sencan, said the regulation was covered by article 231 of the criminal code, which makes it a crime to conceal the paternity of a child.

But Pinar Ilkkaracan, a prominent women's rights campaigner in Turkey, said it would be a misinterpretation of a law intended to protect the inheritance rights of children.

"This is completely against the philosophy of the reformed penal code," she told the BBC.

"We spent years fighting to improve the law so that it would properly protect women's autonomy over their bodies and sexuality.

"This government has slipped this regulation in without any debate in parliament."

Conservative outlook

"It is a huge step backwards," said Ismail Mete Itil, chairman of the Turkish Gynaecologists' and Obstetricians' Association.

"The law should be reformed to take into account the new choices technology offers women - they have done the opposite. They have not thought through the implications of this."

Dr Itil said the number of women seeking sperm donors overseas was small, fewer than 100 a year, but he worries about the implications of the new regulation in other areas, like ethnically-mixed couples.

The issue was publicly discussed last year when one of Turkey's best-known actresses, Guner Ozkul, announced she had used a sperm donor in Denmark to conceive her daughter, who is now five months old.

Ms Ozkul told the BBC she did not want to comment on the new regulation.

It is hard to imagine pregnant women being put on trial just for the way they conceived, but not impossible in Turkey, where last month a 15-year-old Kurdish girl was jailed for nearly eight years just for taking part in a demonstration.

Ms Ilkkaracan believes the move reflects the conservative outlook of the governing Justice and Development Party, which has strongly promoted family values.

She cites the party's failed attempt to criminalise adultery in 2004, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's public call for women to have at least three children as examples.

But Mr Sencan at the Department of Health said it was essential for children to know who their fathers and grandfathers are; using sperm donors, he said, contravened that requirement.



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