In their statement, Humanists International and Center for Civil Courage highlighted the significant hurdles that women seeking abortions in Croatia face, despite the procedure being decriminalized in 1978.
“Women’s reproductive rights in Croatia are exposed to intense economic and ideological pressure”, said Nada Peratovic, founder of Center for Civil Courage, who delivered the statement on behalf of both organizations.
This pressure comes in the form of increasing refusals by medical professionals to perform abortions on the grounds of their religion. Peratovic cited research showing that “nearly 60% of doctors are now considered ‘conscientious objectors’”.
During the review, the Croatian government defended its position by arguing that ‘conscientious objectors’ are legally required to refer patients to a medical professional willing to perform the procedure. Peratovic pointed out in response however, that referrals are “unregulated” in practice. In discharging their referral duty, hospitals do not take into account the disproportionate economic and psychological burden placed on women who are forced to travel long distances to access abortion services.
Ideological pressure also arises from the powerful anti-abortion movement in Croatia, who engage in online and offline harassment and disinformation campaigns aiming “to instill fear and to mislead women about their rights.” A lack of sex education in schools “compounds the problem by creating a stigma around the subject”, she said.
Many anti-abortion groups oppose sex education on the grounds that it imposes “gender ideology and an LGBTI agenda” on children (as a delegate from the anti-abortion group HazteOir/CitizenGo said during the session).
Peratovic concluded with a recommendation to Croatia to implement “a comprehensive, science-based programme of sex education in schools”. In cases of ‘conscientious objection’, she said, “the burden should be on the hospital to ensure that the religious beliefs of its staff do not undermine the rights of patients to access safe and legal abortion care.”