The commission tasked with drafting the bill has about ten members, including representatives of the medical profession, bioethicists and jurists, who will focus on the results of legislation in the EU, Health Minister Milan Kujundzic said on Monday, adding he would not reveal the names of the commission members or the institutions they come from.
The bill is expected to be finalised by February next year, he said, adding the commission would first analyse the existing legislation in EU countries, both those in which abortion is banned, and those where it is fully liberalised.
The decision to keep the names of the commission members secret is unusual, since common practice dictates the bill is drafted either by experts within the ministry or by a working group formed by the minister himself – with the decision on its members published on the ministry’s website, Jutarnji List daily reported.
The abortion law currently in force in Croatia was adopted in 1979. The law allows abortion on request until 10 weeks of pregnancy, and in specific cases afterwards. However, gynaecologists may declare their conscientious objection to the procedure, in which case the hospital must hire an associate who will perform the procedure.
The Constitutional Court delivered a ruling on March 2, 2017, obliging the Croatian Parliament to pass a new abortion bill within two years, adding that it was not possible to ban pregnancy termination. The ruling was passed after the Court had thrown out a motion filed by a civil society organisation 26 years ago to declare the 1979 Abortion Act unconstitutional.
"The legislative arrangement under which termination is allowed up to ten weeks of pregnancy is not unconstitutional. If the parliament decided to the contrary, it would be against the Constitutional Court ruling," Constitutional Court president Miroslav Separovic had said then.
He added: "I don't think that there is a constitutional right to abortion as a human right, but only women's right to privacy, which includes the right to freedom of choice."
Gender Equality Ombudsman Visnja Ljubicic said that so far she had not been invited to participate in drafting the new bill, but that she expected the new law not to be restrictive on women's rights.
"I expect it to retain the existing rights and possibly to be more modern in certain areas," she said, adding that the names of the members of the bill drafting commission should not be kept secret.
"Anything concerning the preparation of national legislation should be transparent. A vow of secrecy is not good in any respect and does not give a sense of security to citizens," Ljubicic said. She announced that she would ask for her office to get involved in drafting the bill.
"We want to take part in policy making because we work on specific cases of human rights violations and because we receive complaints from citizens and can help improve any legal framework," Ljubicic said.
Iva Davorija of the Platform for Reproductive Rights, which brings together non-governmental organisations, said they considered it a problem that the new bill would be finalised within the next three months without the public knowing who was working on it and who was deciding on women's rights. She said it was not clear whether the Catholic Church would be involved in drafting the bill.
Earlier this year, Kujundzic told N1 that “Everyone will be included in drafting the bill, including the Catholic Church.”
He denied the claim the day later, saying he was misinterpreted, and added that “in a democratic society, any individual and subject can participate in the public discussion, including the Church. That doesn’t mean a Church representative will sit in the commission, and he definitely will not sit in this commission.”