50 years after former Yugoslavia protected abortion rights, that legacy is under threat

ZAGREB (TIP): With vigils outside clinics, marches drawing thousands and groups of men kneeling to pray in public squares, religious and neo-conservative groups have been ramping up pressure to ban abortions in staunchly Catholic Croatia. The fierce debate has fueled divisions in the European Union nation of about 3.9 million people where abortion remains legal but access to the procedure is often denied, sending many women to neighboring Slovenia to end a pregnancy.
The movement is in stark contrast to Croatia’s recent past, when it was part of the former Yugoslavia, a Communist-run country that protected abortion rights in its constitution 50 years ago.
“I find it incredible that we are even discussing this in the year 2024,” said Ana Sunic, a mother of two from Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. “It is every person’s basic right to decide what they will do with their body.”
The issue was back in focus this month after France inscribed the right to abortion in its constitution and activists in the Balkans recalled that the former Yugoslavia had done so back in 1974.
Tanja Ignjatovic from the Belgrade-based Autonomous Women’s Center in Serbia, another country that was once part of Yugoslavia, noted that women felt abortion rights “belonged to us and could not be brought into question.” But, she added, “we have seen that regression is possible, too.”
After Yugoslavia disintegrated in a series of wars in the 1990s, the new countries that emerged kept the old laws in place. However, the post-Communist revival of nationalist, religious and conservative sentiments have threatened that legacy.
People take part in a pro-life march in Zagreb, Croatia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Scores of religious and neo-conservative groups in recent years have been building up pressure in the staunchly Catholic country, trying to force a ban on abortions.
Yugoslavia’s abortion laws stayed intact after Croatia split from the country in 1991, but doctors were granted the right to refuse to perform them in 2003. As a result, many women have traveled to neighboring Slovenia for abortion over the years.
“The gap between laws and practice is huge,” feminist activist Sanja Sarnavka said. “Due to the immense influence by conservative groups and the Catholic church it (abortion) is de facto impossible in many places, or severely restricted.”
A current campaign by a Za Zivot — “for life” — movement in Croatia includes prayers, vigils and lectures “for the salvation of the unborn and a stop to abortions in our nation.” (AFP)

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