Turkish women who go abroad to get pregnant via insemination by donor sperm face up to three years in prison after new regulations were passed by the country's Ministry of Health earlier this month. Sperm and egg donation was already banned in Turkey and clinics offering fertility treatment had to state this in their advertising, but women had been able to go abroad for treatment using donor gametes without fear of prosecution.
Published on 6 March in the Official Gazette, the new law states that any clinic, doctor or patient using or encouraging the use of overseas sperm or egg banks will be reported to state prosecutors and face possible criminal charges.
Upon the first offence of suggesting an overseas sperm bank, a clinic will be shut down for a period of three months and, if repeated, permanently. If procedures including sperm or egg donation, or the transplantation of an embryo, are performed at a clinic, it will be closed down and all staff will be banned from working at other similar facilities.
The new law enforces article 231 of the criminal code, which makes it illegal to conceal the paternity of a child. By using sperm donors, children may not know who their fathers and grandfathers are, thereby breaking the law, Irfan Sencan, a spokesperson for the Turkish Ministry of Health, told BBC News Online.
According to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, the new regulation states: 'Spouses will only be able to receive cells belonging to each other. Using a donor in any [other] way is prohibited.' The new law was passed to 'protect the ancestry, to make the newborn's father and mother known. It has nothing to do with race,' Mr Sencan told the newspaper.
Pinar Ilkkaracan, a prominent women's rights campaigner, said that the new regulation is a misinterpretation of the law which protects the inheritance rights of children. 'This is completely against the philosophy of the reformed penal code,' she told the BBC, adding: '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.'
'It is a huge step backwards,' Ismail Mete Itil, chairman of the Turkish Gynaecologists' and Obstetricians' Association told the BBC, adding: '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.'