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The case of Mirela Čavajda and the right of women to termination of pregnancy in Croatia

[Zagreb, 10 May 2022] Last week the media reported on case of Mirela Čavajda. She was 25 weeks pregnant when doctors informed her that her foetus had a brain tumour and will either die or live with severe malformations, but most probably will die before birth. She sought help in all hospitals in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, but they all refused to terminate the pregnancy and doctors advised her to go home and wait for the baby to die or to seek the procedure in the neighbouring Slovenia instead.

Finally after the case was covered by the media, she received official answers from hospitals. Sveti Duh Hospital, the only hospital where she was examined, stated that there are medical indications for termination of pregnancy due to severe malformation of the foetus (prenatal ultrasound examination in the second trimester, gestational age of 27 weeks, diagnosed intracranial fetal tumour confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging) but they are not able to perform this procedure because they do not have the conditions, or doctors who are trained for it. She was instructed to complain to the commission.

KBC Sestre milosrdnice answered her with one sentence in which they said that they cannot determine the diagnosis with certainty and therefore they refuse the request to terminate the pregnancy.

In Vinogradska, they told her that they could not determine the diagnosis with certainty, and they did not even invite her to be examined, so they would have a diagnosis.

In a statement to the media, the Minister of Health revealed Mirela Čavajda’s personal data and said that the doctors thought that the child should be born and treated and that she had not filed a complaint with the Commission, although the deadline had not expired. He said that behind his statement were 40 gynecologists he had contacted, without ever contacting Mirela Čavajda’. Furthermore, it is scandalous that he explained the doctor’s slowness in making the decision to terminate the pregnancy by saying that she should have addressed him personally, to accelerate the procedure.

In Croatia, the 1978 Law on Health Measures for Exercising the Right to Free Decision-Making on the Birth of Children is in force.

The law stipulates that abortion can be performed until the expiration of ten weeks from the day of conception.

After the expiration of ten weeks from the day of conception, termination of pregnancy may be performed only with the approval of the commission, and under the conditions and in accordance with the procedure established by law.

After ten weeks from the date of conception, the first-degree commission may approve the termination of pregnancy, with the consent or at the request of the pregnant woman, inter alia in cases where medical indications and medical science can expect a child to be born with severe congenital physical or mental disabilities.

In the case of Mirela Čavajda, there is no room for any moral judgments by the Commission, but only whether it was a matter of malformations or not. According to the law, it is her decision, and she made the decision.

However, pressures from conservative religious groups have gradually led over the years to denying women the right to abortion in practice.

Sveti Duh Hospital (Holy Spirit Hospital), owned by the City of Zagreb, is just one of many public hospitals where all doctors refuse to perform abortions. The so-called conscientious objection in medicine is not protected by the Constitution and cannot be equated with conscientious objection to military service. The Women’s Network of Croatia is committed to the complete abolition of the so called conscience objection in medicine because it is a means of abolishing women’s rights.

Assessing the constitutionality of the 1978 law in 2017, the Constitutional Court clearly concluded that the law was in accordance with the Constitution. The state must ensure the exercise of the right to self-determination in relation to decisions on pregnancy and its termination, it is clearly written in the decision of the Constitutional Court. According to the same decision, Croatia should have passed a new law on abortion, which would harmonize terminology and in that way modernize the law, while the content does not need to be changed, but the new law was not passed due to pressure from conservative religious groups.

The state authorities are responsible for the situation of continuous violations of women’s rights in Croatian health care, which gives in to pressure from religious groups and allows the denial of health services to women in public hospitals. We demand the resignation of the Minister and all those responsible for this situation in public health.

Coordinators of the Women’s Network of Croatia:

Mirjana Kučer
Nikolina Zec
Sanja Juras
Nela Pamuković
Bojana Genov

Women’s Network of Croatia

Phone: +385 1 455 11 42
Kralja Držislava 2
10 000 Zagreb

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