Advocacy statements

Sexual and reproductive health and rights in Croatia

  • Date / 2021
  • Location / Croatia
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 6: Universal Periodic Review


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 46th Session (22 February to 23 March 2021)

Item 6 UPR Outcomes: Croatia


Thank you Madame President and thank you to the Croatian delegation for its presentation.

I make this statement on behalf of Humanists International and the Center for Civil Courage, Croatia.

We are deeply disappointed that Croatia has rejected the recommendation to guarantee legal and safe abortions for all women and girls.

While on paper, abortion has been legal in Croatia since 1978, in practice a woman seeking an abortion faces numerous obstacles.

A key issue is the increasing refusal by doctors to perform abortions on the grounds of their religion. To give an example of the scale of the problem: nearly 60% of doctors are now considered ‘conscientious  objectors’.[1]

While hospitals are under a legal duty to make a referral in such cases, the practice is unregulated .[2] Many women are forced to have terminations in private or unregulated clinics or to travel abroad to Slovenia, at extraordinary cost and danger to themselves.

There is a powerful anti-abortion movement in Croatia which uses sophisticated tactics to undermine a woman’s right to make an informed choice about her body. Harassment and intimidation outside of clinics are now combined with aggressive online disinformation campaigns, which spread unscientific claims and lies, aiming to instill fear and to mislead women about their rights.[3]

Women’s reproductive rights are exposed to intense economic and ideological pressure. A lack of sexual education in schools compounds the problem by creating a stigma around the subject, as well as leading to unwanted teenage pregnancies. The Croatian government must do better.

We need a comprehensive, science-based programme of sex education in schools. And in cases of conscientious objection, the burden should be on the hospital to ensure that the religious beliefs of its staff do not undermine the right of patients to access safe and legal abortion care. Public health institutions, in all regions, must employ sufficient staff who are willing to provide reproductive health services.

Thank you / Hvala vam


[1] https://www.dw.com/en/is-croatia-going-the-way-of-poland-on-reproductive-rights/a-56044929

[2] https://www.znajznanje.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Marina-Vosika-Msc-Report-Barriers-to-Abortion-Acess-in-Croatia-1.pdf

[3] https://balkaninsight.com/2020/12/01/brave-sisters-tackle-croatias-growing-stigma-over-abortion/; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/30/croatia-anti-abortion-lobby-new-ways-get-message-across

Suggested academic reference

'Sexual and reproductive health and rights in Croatia', Humanists International

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