A recent tumultuous debate in Poland over a proposal for a total ban on abortion, which was rejected by lawmakers on Thursday, brought thousands of people into the streets in protest over the measure, which rumors claimed would impose five years of jail time on both women and their doctors regardless of the circumstances of the abortion.
Those tendentious claims about the measure polarized the discussion, and also produced fallout effects for neighboring countries such as Croatia.
In the beginning, the “Black Monday” protests in Poland had a low profile in Croatia, with only a few people taking to the streets of Zagreb, the capital, to express solidarity with Polish women. Things heated up two days later, however, when members of “40 Days for Life, ” an international group that campaigns against abortion worldwide, including in Croatia, were accused of leaking personal information about women who decided to have an abortion.
Feminists, pro-choice NGOs and left-wing politicians were unanimous in their condemnations, blasting both a violation of privacy and also a woman’s right to decide what to do with her own body.
To be clear, publishing confidential information only further victimizes a woman who’s already suffered enough from the abortion itself, but the moral question of whether abortion is truly synonymous with a high level of self-awareness and emanciation generally was ignored.
How is it possible that in overwhelmingly Catholic Croatia, the pro-life movement wasn’t really a factor in this conversation?
There are three main reasons.
First of all, Croatian law on abortion is one of the most liberal in Europe, in part a legacy of the country’s Socialist past as part of the former Yugoslavia. Since 1978 abortion has been legal in Croatia within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. After ten weeks, in cases of sexual misconduct, potential birth defects or for any mental or psychological complications, the woman may obtain an abortion.
It’s interesting that the current Constitution of the Republic of Croatia claims that “each human being has the right to life” (Article 21), so there is clear incoherence between the 1978 law and the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the supreme legal act. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Constitutional Court, however, have ever discussed this contradiction.
According to the numbers of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, there were over 9,000 abortions in 2014.
Second, a permissive law on abortion wasn’t the only thing Croatia inherited from Yugoslavia. A Socialist mindset, rooted in a creed of ignorance, has led to an underdeveloped democracy on many fronts, including the fact that we’ve never seen a well-planned and systematic pro-life campaign.
There have been a few potential triggers, for instance back in 2012 when a left-wing health minister introduced freezing embryos as one of the first post-election moves, as well as this year’s pro-life National March for Life in the capital Zagreb that drew 15,000 people.
It’s worth mentioning that the wife of Croatia’s current Prime Minister participated in the march, and immediately was discredited and labeled by the mainstream media as backward and intolerant.
Third, a quarter of a century hasn’t developed a political elite brave enough to buck social convention by defending human life from beginning to end.
The political party which won the last elections, and is currently working on the composition of the new government, often refers to wanting a “Christian democracy”, but that’s mostly campaign rhetoric. When it comes time to make concrete decisions, their Christian testimony fails because of political correctness and media pressure.
Honestly, for Catholics it’s often easier with left-wing parties – at least you know who you’re dealing with.
In the last few days, a heated debate on abortion has flared up in the Croatian media space, where pro-choice policy took over the media agenda and made giant efforts to identify abortion as a human right.
A lack of logistics, organization, and political and media support forces pro-life forces in Croatia to lean on the Bible story of David and Goliath … at least for now.