‘We Don’t Do It Here’ – Abortion Rights Under Threat in Croatia

Masenjka Bacic

Abortion is legal in Croatia, but increasingly feels forbidden

A screenshot of the Internet homepage of what purports to be an abortion clinic in Croatia but which in fact tries to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies.  

First, the figures:

In 1990 in Croatia, on the eve of its independence, 46,679 legal abortions were carried out. Last year, according to official figures, there were 8,181, one of the lowest rates in Europe. In 2014, of 375 gynaecologists employed in Croatian hospitals where abortions can be carried out, 166 do so. Others refuse on religious grounds.

This was my starting point for an investigation into the right to abortion in Croatia for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. I wanted to understand the trends behind the figures, and whether they told the whole story. While abortion remains legal, is it becoming increasingly forbidden for Croatian women?

I decided to conduct an experiment: I began calling hospitals, telling those who answered that I was pregnant and asking whether I could have an abortion in their hospital. It went like this:

Hospital in Pakrac:

- We do not do the abortions in this hospital.

- OK, can you please tell me where can I do it?

- No. I don’t know. (Hangs up).

Hospital in Knin:

- First, you need to go to the gynaecologist and then come here with findings. But, you know, you don’t have to do it here. You can go also to Zadar or Šibenik. In Šibenik, you can do it in private clinics.

Hospital in Slavonski Brod:

- If you are not from this county, you cannot do it.

Hospital in Bjelovar:

- The doctor that does abortions is on vacation. Try to call the outpatient clinic.

I turned to the Internet, typing into Google ‘clinics for abortion’ in Croatian. I clicked on the top result; a site opened, with a picture slideshow, purporting to be that of an abortion clinic. Picture 1: Bloodied scissors. Picture 2: A young baby in a woman’s arms.

Clicking on an icon titled ‘Consequences of abortion’, I was told that women who abort risk death, breast cancer, sexual dysfunction and suicidal thoughts.

This was my first encounter with the phenomenon of ‘fake’ abortion clinics advertising online with the aim of actually dissuading women from aborting. Croatia’s public attorney for gender equality has reported such sites to the Interior Ministry but they continue to operate.

I spent hours trawling the Internet, reading forums. Gradually it became clear to me: information on abortion in Croatia is travelling mainly by word of mouth, whispered by women hidden by the anonymity of online forums. As if it was illegal.

Masenjka Bacic has been a freelance print and broadcast journalist since 2007, focused mainly on social and cultural issues and minority rights. For the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, Masenjka is investigating the threat to abortion rights in Croatia.