Half a century after the former Yugoslavia safeguarded abortion rights, that historic legacy faces challenges and uncertainties.

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In Croatia, religious and neo-conservative groups are intensifying their efforts to ban abortions, sparking a fierce debate and deepening divisions in the staunchly Catholic nation. Despite abortion being legal, access to the procedure is often restricted, leading many women to seek abortions in neighboring Slovenia.

This movement contrasts sharply with Croatia’s past as part of Communist-run Yugoslavia, which protected abortion rights in its constitution half a century ago.

The recent focus on abortion rights gained traction after France enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution, prompting activists in the Balkans to recall Yugoslavia’s progressive stance in 1974.

Tanja Ignjatovic from the Autonomous Women’s Center in Serbia emphasized the importance of abortion rights as a fundamental aspect of women’s autonomy, but acknowledged the possibility of regression.

Since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, nationalist, religious, and conservative sentiments have challenged the legacy of abortion rights in the region.

While Croatia maintained Yugoslavia’s abortion laws after independence in 1991, doctors were granted the right to refuse to perform abortions in 2003. Consequently, many women have sought abortions in Slovenia due to restricted access in Croatia.

Feminist activist Sanja Sarnavka highlighted the significant gap between laws and practice, attributing it to the influence of conservative groups and the Catholic Church.

The “for life” movement in Croatia, along with the “be masculine” organization, has been campaigning vigorously against abortions, advocating traditional gender roles and male dominance.

In 2022, a woman’s ordeal of being denied an abortion despite fetal health issues sparked outrage and protests in Croatia’s liberal community. The incident shed light on the challenges Croatian women face in accessing abortions.

A study by obstetrician Jasenka Grujić revealed that many Croatian women travel to Slovenia for abortions due to restrictions and conscientious objectors among doctors in Croatian hospitals.

Despite Yugoslavia’s progressive stance on abortion in the past, the issue remains contentious in the region, with varying levels of legal protections for women’s reproductive rights across former Yugoslav states.

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