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Les "Marches pour la vie" et la question de l’avortement en Croatie

  • June 2019

In May 2019 “Marches for Life”, pro-life rallies that have their roots in the US anti-abortion movement activities, were organized in five Croatian towns : Zagreb, Split, Osijek, Rijeka, and Zadar, in which thousands of supporters asked for the protection of life since the conception. The first such “March for Life” was organized in the Croatian capital Zagreb in May 2016, and has been repeated since every year. In 2017, it was organized in two cities (Zagreb and Split), and in 2018 in three cities (Zagreb, Split and Rijeka). Several NGOs and civic initiatives have been in the background of that, among which the most prominent is “In the Name of Family” (in Croatian U ime obitelji), which in 2013 collected a sufficient number of supporting citizens’ signatures to convey a national referendum, on the basis of which the Constitution was changed to define marriage as solely the union of a man and a woman (see the 2017 debate). Though not being an organizer, the Catholic Church openly supported “Marches for Life”.

The organization of “Marches of Life” coincided with debates on changes of the law on abortion. Though with some amendments, the 1978 abortion law prescribing the right of a woman to terminate pregnancy up to ten weeks following the date of conception, to be performed solely in public hospitals, has been still valid in Croatia. While legally unconditional up to the tenth week of pregnancy, the accessibility of abortion on demand has in reality significantly decreased in recent years, mainly due to the right of doctors to not perform it because of conscientious objection. There are hospitals, particularly in socio-economically deprived regions, in which no one is performing it. Also, the woman has to pay for it and the price varies as it is not nationally regulated. According to official data, the number of abortions has been declining significantly. There is suspicion that not all abortions are registered, or registered as “abortion on demand”. Different attempts were made to question the constitutionality of abortion as the Yugoslav Constitution, which constituted the ground for the 1978 abortion law, does not exist anymore, and the Croatian Constitution from 1990 stipulates the right to life of every human person and forbids the death penalty. This allowed pro-life groups to argue that the unborn life is also a human right protected by the Constitution. Following several constitutional complaints that challenged the right to abort on demand, the Constitutional Court concluded in its ruling from February 2017 that the 1978 law is not unconstitutional, in particular since the law does not jeopardize the just balance between the Constitutional right of women to privacy, liberty, and personality on the one hand, and the public interest to protect the life of the unborn. However, the Constitutional Court also found that in some parts, the 1978 law is not in accordance with the current legislation, and required the Parliament to pass a new law in the period of two years. As explicitly said in the ruling, the new law should find a way to maintain the above-mentioned balance, but also to envisage educational and preventive measures to make abortion an exception.

Two years have passed since this ruling, but the government has failed to adopt a new abortion law. According to the available information, the ministry of Health had formed an expert group to study foreign experiences and to draft a new law, but neither this group nor the ministry itself has come out with any legislative proposal. At the same time, civil society organizations and politicians have put forward different draft laws. As Croatia is facing presidential election in late 2019 and parliamentary election in late 2020, it could be predicted that the Government will not propose any change of the law in the near future. Nevertheless, this also means that the public debates and the pressure on the government will continue, as is visible from “Marches for Life” which seemingly ask only for the protection of life, though this inevitably means a ban on the right to abort. Similarly, “40 days for life”, collective vigils in front of public hospitals that provide abortion on demand, have been organized since 2014. At the same time, this means also that the right of abortion, though legally permitted, will remain difficult to realize in reality.

D 17 juin 2019    ASiniša Zrinščak

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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