Thousands of Croatians rally against abortion

Zagreb (AFP) –


Thousands of anti-abortion marchers took to the streets on Saturday in three cities around Croatia, a largely Catholic country where activists say reproductive rights are increasingly under threat.

In Zagreb, police briefly detained around a dozen women's rights protesters who tried to block the annual "March for Life", which drew some 5,000 people to the centre of the capital.

The crowd was full of children with balloons while demonstrators marched with a banner that read: "Let's protect the most endangered minority in Croatia -- unborn children."

Thousands of other anti-abortion activists also marched in the coastal towns of Split and Zadar.

"A child should be protected from conception till birth," said 34-year-old Ivan Plese, a theologist walking with his wife and 10-month baby boy.

Ivana Lozo, a 19-year-old at the rally, told AFP that "abortion should be completely banned."

Abortion is legal until the 10th week of pregnancy in Croatia under a 1978 law from when the country was still part of communist Yugoslavia.

But the procedure is becoming more restricted as rising religious pressure sways doctors to refuse abortions on moral grounds.

Some 60 percent of gynecologists at public hospitals do not offer abortions by citing a legal right to "conscientious objection", according to a survey conducted earlier this year by RTL television.

The country's parliament is supposed to re-write the abortion law after a court ruled in 2017 that the current legislation is outdated.

Rights groups fear this could pave the way for more restrictions.

Zagreb's rally concluded with a concert from the popular but controversial right-wing singer Marko Perkovic Thompson, who has drawn criticism for being sympathetic to Croatia's World War II pro-Nazi regime.

The demonstration was held on the eve of European parliament elections in Croatia. Organisers denied any political affiliation.

Nearly 90 percent of Croatia's 4.2 million people are Catholics and the Church plays a central role in society.