ISTANBUL - Early-term abortions are still legal in Turkey, though Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his own opposition clear last year, calling abortion "murder." There was also at least one case of a woman who had an abortion after the 10th week facing three years in jail, in a country with an increasingly pious Muslim influence in national politics.
For the upcoming “Abortion is a Right” gathering, women from over 40 NGOs and organizations are gathering to voice their support to keep abortion legal in Turkey. The association has also put together a compilation of stories from women who have had heart-wrenching experiences during birth, abortion and Cesarean operations in an aim to raise awareness. They have been published anonymously at www.kurtajhaktir.com.
Here is one such story:
I am 37 years old and I have two children. Even though my husband and I used protection I became pregnant for a third time. After spending days and nights debating whether we could raise a third child, we made the very difficult decision to have an abortion.
Financially it would be impossible for us to raise a third child. Having a child means costs, and unfortunately we didn’t have the financial capacity to afford it.
I know it may seem like I’m writing this account very calmly, but do not be fooled. When I found out I was pregnant I was completely shocked. My husband was equally devastated, especially when we made the decision to abort.
We researched the cost of the procedure and found that if we went to a public hospital, the operation could be carried out for 700 Turkish Liras ($395).
Once we made the decision, I went to a family planning clinic at a local public hospital where the doctor carried out an ultrasound and found the fetus. As soon as I told her I wanted an abortion, her whole facial expression changed and with a stern voice she said: “Elementary school graduates, university graduates, you are all the same.”
Lacking any empathy with her patient, she lashed out with harsh and judgmental words that did nothing more than boost her ego.
I stayed silent. I didn’t want to speak because my sorrow was enough for me.
She finally gave me an appointment and told me to come bathed, shaved and to bring a skirt. Just as I was leaving she added that I should also come to my appointment on a full stomach!
I found this strange, especially as it’s not right to eat before being put under anesthetic. Everyone knows that.
“You know how to sleep with your husband?”
Two days later I woke up early and set out with my husband for the hospital, where we arrived at 8.45 a.m. They ushered my husband into the waiting room and took me to another department, where there were four other women waiting.
I waited an hour before the doctor called me in. As if I were her child, she abruptly told me to go and sit down. The next thing I knew she was explaining how the reproductive system works. And then in a condescending manner she asked me questions like “So how are you going to protect yourself from now on?”
Then when I answered her, she said, “Well if you know how to protect yourself why didn’t you take the full precautions before?” I uttered my husband’s name, but she wouldn’t let me finish: “You know how to sleep with your husband though, don’t you?” she said.
Next I was taken to a room with bunk beds. There were four bunks, one dirtier than the next. The windows in the room were wide open. I was instructed to put on my skirt, forced to undress in front of complete strangers.
The women in the room were summoned into the operating room, one by one. I waited my turn. Each woman that came back into the room after the procedure looked completely distraught. But no one said a word. I was the last one to be called in.
I entered the room. The window was wide open and the gynecology chair was right in front of it. I was told to lie down, and very naïvely I was expecting them to apply the anesthetic. At this point my eyes caught sight of a bin right next to the bed, which was filled with bloody cloths and cotton wool.
While I was taking everything in, I noticed the door to the room was wide open and people were walking in and out as they pleased. I then asked myself: “What am I doing here among these people?”
Then suddenly the doctor inserted a speculum inside me and that was the point where I realized they would not use anesthetic, nor would they give me anything to help calm my nerves.
A kind of punishment
The physical and emotional trauma I went through at that moment is one that will haunt me for life. I started to cry, which is very much unlike me. They literally vacuumed my baby right in front of my eyes. It rocked me and suddenly I hated everything: myself, my husband my helplessness.
The whole procedure took five minutes.
My hands went purple from squeezing the corners of the table so hard. I felt like I had been raped and then I realized that I had indeed been raped, emotionally.
Looking back now, I think this kind of procedure without even so much as a painkiller is a way of the government punishing women who seek abortions.
"You say it's your body, your choice -- well here you go, have a look"... is what the government is trying to say to us.
I wanted to share my story to make people aware of the situation and perhaps even help to lead the way towards change.
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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