We Want to Live
Neoconservative ideologies have been spreading throughout Europe for a while now, and Croatia, unsurprisingly, is not an exception. When it comes to women's reproductive rights, especially the right to abortion, the situation is particularly alarming.
In October this year, a motion was put forward to the Constitutional Court to challenge the Law on free decision on childbirth, 25 years after this issue was first raised. To recall, Catholic activist of the Croatian Movement for Life and Family, Ružica Ćavar, in 1991 raised the issue of legality of abortion. The Catholic Church did not miss this chance to try restricting women's rights, and Cardinal Kuharić demanded from the Parliament to completely ban abortion and contraception, unsuccessfully. All this led to the proposals of amendments to the Law in 1995/6, as well as the formation of the Croatian Catholic Medical Society.
When Croatia joined the EU in 2013, the Croatian neoconservatives were bolstered by their European counterparts, and continued reinforcing more strongly the idea that women's primary role is that of an incubator – in case we forgot. Thus in recent years we witnessed various "peaceful prayer gatherings in front of the hospitals" that are becoming ever less peaceful and aggressively impose their worldview.
Information taken out of context or completely false pseudoscientific data which thrive on people's fears and prejudice are common weapons of the neoconservatives. Also, they have been increasingly using visual materials that manipulate information and emotions because – an image of a dead foetus says more than a thousand words. In order to garner support from the public, anti-choice supporters are waging an ideological battle over the symbolic meanings of a visually displayed foetus.
We cannot but not mention the epitome of Croatian neoconservatives, which made the restriction of women's rights their life mission – and no, it is not Željka Markić (though the race would be tight), but an organisation that professes to "defend the right to life from natural conception to natural death" – Vigilare. This organisation is particularly adept at using new media and petitions to promote their 'vigilant' agenda.
In the middle of the holiday season, Vigilare decided to remind us that the women's rights won after the years of relentless struggle, are to be flushed down the toilet. They released a video and put up 11 billboards around Zagreb earlier this week, showing that no limit to bad taste exists for them. This media campaign accompanies the earlier mentioned motion to challenge the legality of the Law on free decision on childbirth, which the Constitutional Court is currently considering.
Their website claims that the "billboards show the brutal reality in the Croatian hospitals and private gynaecological clinics." We can agree on the brutal reality of Croatian hospitals – in which women cannot freely make decisions about their bodies and health, and are constantly being obstructed through various means to exercise their legal rights.
Manipulating scientific facts is, predictably, part of the campaign, so the billboard show a woman in a late stage of pregnancy, much later than 10 weeks during which abortion is legal. This can be interpreted as manipulating the public as well as putting pressure on the Constitutional Court. "Groups close to the Church are doing this to push their own agenda," Nataša Bijelić from CESI said for Index. Medical doctor Dubravko Lepušić agrees, highlighting that interventions after the 15th week of pregnancy are performed only in the cases when the foetus is malformed, while abortions at the woman's request are performed legally during the ten weeks.
Additionally, Vigilare stooped to good old gender stereotypes when the voice of girl 'Mia' in the tasteless (to say the least) video tells us that her life dream is to get married and have many children as to fulfil her parents' expectations. Fascinatingly, the video in less than a minute and a half manages to produce nausea and abhorrence, and present the choice on abortion for everything apart from what it actually is. The nausea felt familiar and reminded me of the song released earlier this year, performed by the band Emanuel and certain celebrities who decided to earn at the expense of women's reproductive rights.
After 25 years, on Monday we will come full circle – the Croatian Movement for Life and Family announced submitting an amended version of the original motion from 1991 to the Constitutional Court. This is yet another confirmation that the once won reproductive rights can never be taken for granted and that the fight for dignity and equality is never-ending. "I want to live and I want laws to protect me," Mia says at the end of the video. Dear neoconservatives, we want the same.