The possibility of legally terminating a pregnancy is one of the issues for which women, particularly the feminist movement, have fought hard over the years. These struggles have meant that today in Europe almost all countries have legalized abortion. There are only 6 countries where the laws are highly restrictive: Andorra, Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Poland. In the first three states, termination of pregnancy is still illegal, while in the last three it is possible only if the woman’s life is at risk.
However, in some countries legalization is not sufficient to make abortion accessible and possible for all. One example is Croatia. The main causes are the bigotry of society and the influence of the Catholic Church, which have made it almost impossible for women to have an abortion.
This has not always been the case in the country. During the Yugoslav period, abortion was a legal practice and also generally used as a birth control method. This created many problems for the health of women, who often struggled to get pregnant again, or had psychological issues resulting from the termination of pregnancy. Established by law in 1969, abortions were allowed for pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, and upon medical advice even thereafter. According to Rašević (1994), “about 200,000 abortions take place every year, and in 1989 the rate of abortion was 90.5 per 1000 women between 15 and 44 years of age”. Therefore, in the past 10 years of the socialist regime the number of abortions exceeded the number of births. Moreover, most abortions took place in hospitals, and only 0.1% took place clandestinely (Rašević, 1994).
With the fall of the Yugoslav regime and the birth of the Croatian state, even though the law on abortion has remained valid, religious associations gained power and began to demand greater control over this practice. The influence of the Catholic church in Croatia is very strong, and in recent decades has invaded many fields (education, health, and media, for example), often with negative effects, including the re-traditionalization of gender roles, a toughening of attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community, and a general secularization of society. Thus, in 2003, a law was enacted to modify the previous Croatian Health and Medical Care Act. This amendment gives the right to medical personnel to refuse to perform an abortion for ethical, moral or religious reasons. Eventually, the patient is forced to seek another doctor, or in some cases another hospital, to proceed with the termination of the pregnancy.
This amendment fits in with almost every other European country that has enacted a law on it. 21 out of 25 countries, which are members of the European Union, give the right to its healthcare personnel to decide whether or not to perform abortion for personal reasons (Håkansson et al., 2021). To date in Croatia, this is a very sensitive issue, as the number of objectors, especially in public hospitals, is very high. For this reason, many women decide to turn to private health care, or even go to neighboring Slovenia.
Conscientious objection to abortion reduces access to safe abortion (in a hospital setting) and foments stigmatization of women. Furthermore, as in other European countries, Croatia lacks clear legislation behind the conscientious objection. This leaves women confused who wish to have an abortion but they do not know where to go without being judged, but most importantly it leads to “double standards” (Håkansson et al., 2021). This expression is used to indicate situations where medical staff refuse to perform abortions in public hospitals, claiming to be conscientious objectors, but allow it in their own private facilities for a fee.
Finally, the biggest stumbling block to overcome now, is the belief that we have solved the problem at the political level, thanks to the laws enacted.
Edited by Apeksha Patrick