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


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.”

A men’s organization dubbed Muzevni Budite, or “be masculine,” is behind the prayers in city squares, where they preach the revival of male dominance and traditional gender roles along with a campaign against abortions.

In 2022, the weekslong ordeal of a woman who had been denied an abortion even though her child had serious health problems caused an uproar and triggered protests in Croatia’s liberal community.

Mirela Cavajda was 20 weeks pregnant when doctors informed her that her fetus had a brain tumor and no chance of a normal life. Though the abortion was eventually permitted in Croatia, Cavajde had it performed in Slovenia.

As many as 207 Croatian women traveled to a single border hospital in Slovenia that same year for the procedure, a study by Croatian obstetrician Jasenka Grujić showed.

The percentage of doctors who refuse to perform abortions as conscientious objectors reaches 100% in some Croatian hospitals, the study found. The objectors include not only obstetricians but also anaesthesiologists and other doctors needed for the procedure, Grujic said.

“Croatia’s medical community is deeply divided,” Grujic wrote in the analysis she made available to The Associated Press. “I hope this trend of actual unavailability of abortion will be reversed. That is so dangerous for women’s health and lives.”


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