Apart from the churches, the growth of political conservatism in conjunction with nationalist “solutions” to demographic problems also plays a major role in promoting anti-abortion attitudes.
The interactive map of the Center, which has been monitoring the state of women’s reproductive rights in the world for 25 years, shows that most countries in the Western Balkans, as well as Central and Eastern Europe (except Poland) belong to the group of countries with a liberal attitude towards abortion. Then why are women all over Europe listening carefully to what is happening with their inalienable right to decide for themselves with whom they want to have children, how many they want to have and when, if they choose to have them at all?
The answer lies in justified concerns about retrograde trends and the consequences they have on women’s lives and health. The horrific fates of Mirela Čavajda from Croatia and Izabela and Agnješka T. from Poland testify to this. Mirela Čavajdi has been denied the right to abortion several times this year, despite carrying a fetus with an incurable brain tumor, and pregnant women Izabela and Agnješka T. died as a result of untimely abortions, one in 2020 and the other in 2022. Women from North Macedonia still remember the amendments to the Law on Abortion from 2013, which requires a series of humiliating procedures for women (written request, counseling) before the abortion can be approved.
We can identify at least two trends when it comes to restricting the right of women to freely decide on childbirth. The first is the enactment of restrictive laws, most often by conservative political elites with wholehearted support of various churches. The second trend shows that resistance to this fundamental women’s right can take new forms, not necessarily through restrictive laws, but through various practices and lack of action from medical and non-medical staff. This is the right to “conscientious objection”, ie. the right of a doctor to refuse to perform an abortion out of his own (mostly religious) beliefs, to delay the procedure for free termination of pregnancy in order to break the 10-12 week deadline, and then to make new demands towards the women and the medical institution; disabling medical abortion, establishing the obligation to “consult” with experts or clergy in order to influence the woman’s decision. More broadly, the refusal to introduce sex education programs in schools, as well as free and affordable contraception, is also in favor of this trend. Overall, the trend of indirect, “silent” resistance combined with reduced benefits for social, health and educational programs related to reproductive rights and health is much more dangerous because it’s too reminiscent of the “boiling frog syndrome”.
Apart from the churches (which have seemingly reached ecumenical agreement only regarding this ban), the growth of political conservatism in conjunction with nationalist “solutions” to demographic problems also plays a major role in promoting anti-abortion attitudes. Additional ideological and material assistance is abundant from both the East and the West and is spreading throughout Europe through conservative political parties, but also various “pro-life” movements and associations. Opposition to free birth decisions in the context of right-wing and anti-modernist population policies usually goes hand in hand with the spread of homophobia and anti-migrant sentiment.
At the same time, the position of parents with children, especially single mothers, is getting worse, and violence against women is becoming more brutal. Therefore, the rational decision not to have children, in poor, unfree, totalitarian and nationalist regimes, is becoming a frequent and expected phenomenon.
And what else can we do besides constant vigilance over the rights that we had fought for? We propose organized and solidary resistance to all attacks on the guaranteed right to a safe, free and affordable termination of pregnancy.
Zorana Antonijević, activist of the Women’s Platform for Development of Serbia