The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the Croatian government to improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women during childbirth. It also emphasized the importance of accessible reproductive health services. CEDAW placed a special emphasis on the regulation of conscientious objections, which must not be an obstacle in achieving women’s rights, it stated.

The 61st session of CEDAW met in Geneva from July 6 to 24. On July 15, the topic of discussion was the combined fourth and fifth report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Croatia, submitted to the Committee by the Croatian government. Alongside the government delegation led by the Office for Gender Equality President Helena Radin Štimac, the session was attended by the representatives of the Croatian Women’s Network.

In its concluding observation, the Committee urged Croatia to guarantee that women’s rights, autonomy, and informed consent requirements are upheld during childbirth. CEDAW also recommended that Croatia ensure that the conscientious objection of health professionals who provide gynecological services not be allowed to impede their patients’ access to those services, especially abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, CESI, and RODA submitted a shadow report to CEDAW regarding the failure of the Croatian government to ensure women have access to quality healthcare, including abortion and modern contraceptives. The report addressed the serious concerns about the treatment of pregnant women during childbirth in Croatian hospitals, including deficits in ensuring full and informed consent to medical interventions during childbirth as well as frequent abusive treatment of women by medical professionals.

“Croatian women have a right to receive quality reproductive health services, but instead they face abuse, disrespectful care, and a range of obstacles to critical services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Croatia must take effective steps to ensure pregnant women giving birth receive medical care that respects their needs and wishes.”

Abortion is legal within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter under limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy is a result of a crime, if the pregnancy put a woman’s health or life at risk, and in cases of severe fetal impairments. However, women are facing increasing difficulties in accessing legal abortion services in practice. According to 2014 research by the Gender Equality Ombudswoman, more than half of gynecologists in Croatia do not provide legal abortion services due to their personal objections.

The joint submission to the CEDAW Committee also included findings from RODA’s 2015 Survey on Experiences in Maternity Services that reported a large number of pregnant women being subjected to procedures that can be harmful to their physical and mental health, including 54 percent of women alleging that health professionals applied heavy pressure to their abdomens to speed up the delivery, a procedure not supported by medical evidence.

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