Abortion rights and other rights under threat in Croatia

A new government came into power at the end of January 2016. Since then, Croatia has turned towards the far right with a noticeable rise in nationalism, ethnic intolerance towards the Serbian minority, and conservativism, with one of the main objectives being a ban on abortion. The new government also tried to stop a planned educational reform by introducing more conservative members into the expert group. Their vision for education consists of patriotic history, literature conveying traditional and Christian virtues, and conservative sexual education. However, the coalition between the two largest parties broken down several months ago, and new elections are expected later in the year.Protests regarding the shift in focus of educational reform brought around 50,000 people all over Croatia into the streets to express their discontent with the government’s vision on 1 June 2016, in contrast to the 7,000 who marched against abortion rights in May. But in January 2016, against the expectations of pro-choice campaigners, the Constitutional Court announced the start of a constitutional review of the law, which currently allows abortion until the 10th week of pregnancy.In an investigation into access to abortion in hospitals in Croatia for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, Masenjka Bacic reports the following findings:

Abortion is legal in Croatia, but increasingly feels forbidden. In 1990, on the eve of its independence, 46,679 legal abortions were carried out. Last year, according to official figures, there were 8,181, one of the lowest rates in Europe. In 2014, of 375 gynaecologists employed in Croatian hospitals where abortions can be carried out, 166 do so. Others refuse on religious grounds.I began calling hospitals, telling those who answered that I was pregnant and asking whether I could have an abortion in their hospital. It went like this:”Hospital in Pakrac:- We do not do the abortions in this hospital.- OK, can you please tell me where can I do it?- No. I don’t know. (Hangs up).Hospital in Knin:- First, you need to go to the gynaecologist and then come here with findings. But, you know, you don’t have to do it here. You can go also to Zadar or Šibenik. In Šibenik, you can do it in private clinics.Hospital in Slavonski Brod:- If you are not from this county, you cannot do it.Hospital in Bjelovar:- The doctor that does abortions is on vacation. Try to call the outpatient clinic.I turned to the Internet, typing into Google ‘clinics for abortion’ in Croatian. I clicked on the top result; a site opened, with a picture slideshow, purporting to be that of an abortion clinic. Picture 1: Bloodied scissors. Picture 2: A young baby in a woman’s arms.Clicking on an icon entitled ‘Consequences of abortion’, I was told that women who abort risk death, breast cancer, sexual dysfunction and suicidal thoughts.This was my first encounter with the phenomenon of ‘fake’ abortion clinics advertising online with the aim of actually dissuading women from aborting. Croatia’s public attorney for gender equality has reported such sites to the Interior Ministry but they continue to operate.I spent hours trawling the Internet, reading forums. Gradually it became clear to me: information on abortion in Croatia is travelling mainly by word of mouth, whispered by women hidden by the anonymity of online forums. As if it was illegal.

SOURCES: Political Critique, 4 June 2016 ; Balkan Insight, 1 August 2016 ; PHOTO by Karlo MijićSee also: Campaign newsletter, 8 January 2016 ; Campaign newsletter, 3 February 2016