Abortion in Croatia

law and obstacles

On paper, abortion has been legal in Croatia for decades. Yet, in practice, abortion is becoming less available under pressure from the Catholic Church and neoconservative activists. 

Abortion in Croatia has been regulated since 1952, subject to various restrictions. Under the current law, which has been in force since 1978 and has not changed, abortion can be performed on request up to 10 weeks after conception, and then in special circumstances.

In February 2017, the Constitutional Court of Croatia reaffirmed the constitutionality of abortion, rejecting claims made by conservative groups and individuals that allowing women access to abortion on request was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the court’s decision called on Croatia’s Parliament to pass a new abortion law within two years of its ruling. That deadline has been ignored. Probably the new law will continue the old practice based on the annulment of women’s rights instead of ensuring their right to health care. 

Having an abortion is heavily stigmatized in Croatia, while women’s freedom to make decisions about their own bodies is being called into question more and more. Women’s reproductive rights are exposed to intense economic and ideological pressure.

In 2019 medical abortion became legal, again granted to women only in some clinics.

Picture: our activists standing in front of a “Walk for Life” in 2019.

There is a powerful anti-abortion movement in Croatia which uses sophisticated tactics to undermine a woman’s right to make an informed choice about her body. All these groups enjoy the broad support of the country’s powerful Catholic Church, which is against abortion for doctrinal reasons. 

Since 2014 “Walk for Life” rallies are held in Croatia. Paradoxically one of the anti-abortion protesters is also a convicted war criminal. At a number of places in Croatia, groups of hardline Catholics have started performing public prayers in front of clinics where abortions do occur. Intimidations outside of clinics are now combined with aggressive online disinformation campaigns, which spread unscientific claims and lies. For example, the klinikazapobacaje.com is in reality part of a nationwide campaign aimed at discouraging women from terminating their pregnancies. Women who abort, the website claims, risk depression, sexual dysfunction, cancer, drug addiction, and suicidal thoughts.

In Croatia, the biggest obstacle to exercising the right to abortion is the widespread appeal of conscience in gynecology which has been allowed since 2003.

By 2018, 58 percent of health workers in public hospitals where women can request abortions refuse to perform the procedure. In the most famous clinic for women’s health in the capital city of Zagreb, 40 out of 45 doctors do not perform abortions, and in Split – the second city in Croatia – 32 out of 34 gynecologists opt-out. Although every clinical center is obliged to assemble a team of doctors that perform abortions since women have a right to access these operations, the head of the Clinic in Zagreb stated that: “it is not fair to overburden the remaining five doctors who perform abortions.” He also said that no administrative measure can overturn the right to conscientious objection. These are the most important hospitals whose staff are also employed at universities, where they are educating new generations of doctors.

Fearing stigma and blocked by a large number of doctors who refuse to perform abortions in public hospitals on the grounds of their faith, many Croatian women are forced to have unregistered terminations in private clinics (even in private apartments) or travel abroad to Slovenia. Pregnant women who seek help as a result of family or financial problems are often directed by the state to Catholic-run shelters, which can mix warnings of damnation with promises of salvation. 

Sources:

Is Croatia going the way of Poland on reproductive rights? (12/2020)

Croatian MPs oppose the right to abortion even for rape victims (07/2020)

Women in Croatia fear further erosion of long-held abortion rights (05/2021)