ISTANBUL Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul on Sunday to protest against plans by Turkey's prime minister to bring in a new law on abortion, a practice he has called "murder".
Women of all ages held aloft banners with slogans including "My body, my choice" and "I am a woman not a mother, don't touch my body" as they marched to the city's Kadikoy Square.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sparked outrage from women's groups and opposition lawmakers last weekend when he delivered two fiery speeches in which he attacked abortion and caesarean births as secret plots designed to stall Turkey's economic growth. Abortion, he said, was "murder".
He said on Tuesday his governing AK Party was preparing a draft bill on abortion and intended to enact it into law. He gave no details.
About 3,000-4,000 protesters, mostly women, took part in the rally on Sunday. They blew whistles and chanted "AKP, keep your hands off my body" and "Tayyip it is none of your business".
"It is our right to choose when to give birth or to have children at all. We will not bow to AKP fundamentalism," said Bahar Guler, 36, holding the hand of her five-year-old daughter.
"It is a big decision to be made by the mother only, it's very ridiculous for the government to have a say in this," said Nilay Askar, a 28-year-old dentist.
Abortion has been legal in the country since 1983, until the 10th week after conception.
Erdogan wants Turkey, a mostly Muslim nation of around 75 million people, to be among the world's top 10 economies by 2023.
A religious and social conservative, he has for years advocated families having at least three children. On a visit to Kazakhstan recently, deciding three was not enough, he told the country's prime minister Kazakh families should be having five.
Erdogan said last week caesarean births limited population growth because women who opted for the procedure could not have more than two children.
Turkey's health minister has announced plans to penalise hospitals that carry out elective caesarean sections, calling them unnatural.
Turkey does have a high rate of caesarean births - more than 40 percent of live births in 2009, according to 2011 figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Only Brazil and China have a higher rate among OECD countries.
The World Health Organisation recommends a figure of 15 percent.
Abortion rates in Turkey, however, have steadily declined since the practice became legal in 1983, though many Turks are choosing to have fewer children.
At 14.8 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008, Turkey still trails far behind global U.N. figures of 28 per 1,000 or 27 per 1,000 in Europe.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Seda Sezer; Editing by Pravin Char)