BELGRADE, Serbia (Vianews) – Almost a week ago, Irish women won their fight against abortion ban. The Eighth Amendment, which grants an equal right to life to the mother and unborn, will be replaced. At the same time, in Serbia, there are obvious attempts made by highest ranking officials to limit the current level of reproductive freedoms for women.
One of the hottest topics in Serbia is the population crisis and low natality rate, currently at 1.45 children per women. According to the International Organization for Migration, the UN migration agency, estimations are that by 2041, Serbia will have some 5.5 million citizens which is a 23 percent decrease in population. According to several different research, Serbia is, for almost a decade, ranked in top five oldest nations in Europe. According to the January 2018 data from the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, the average wage is RSD 50,048 (425.41 Euro), while the estimated minimal costs of living of some 650 euro and unemployment rate between 20 and 38 percents. With such data, a drop in national population numbers should not be a surprise. What is surprising, though, is the way the Government choose to deal with the problem.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of culture and media organized a competition for citizens. The idea was to pick the best motto for a governmental campaign that was supposed to stimulate women to have more children. When competition results were publicly announced, the Government faced with huge public backlash, since all of the slogans were offensive towards women, and all of them were sending the message that women simply do not want to have children because they want a career or have other excuses. Even some female ministers in Government opposed to the campaign. Eventually, the whole campaign was stopped and Government decided to work on a strategy for stimulating women to have more children. Again, there was no effort in order to investigate reasons for low fertility rates and reasons why citizens (not only women) delay or give up on parenthood. The governmental approach was simplified as if it’s self-explanatory – according to them, there are no babies because women do not want to give birth.
The next step was passing new measures of financial stimulation for women. From July this year, every woman in Serbia will have 100 euro per month in the next ten years for a third born child and 150 for the fourth child. Unemployed mothers will have a one time help of 800 euro for a firstborn. These measures will retroactively be applied to all children born since the first day of January 2018.
Serbia is a poor country, so these obviously low amounts of financial support are certainly better than nothing. But critics and organizations for civil rights noted that this represents the discrimination of ethnic minorities: it is a common case in Serbia that Roma or Albanian women have more than four children. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and other Serbian officials didn’t even try to hide the attempt to discriminate minorities: in all of their statements they constantly emphasized that Serbia has a low natality problem in all of the municipalities, except in three, where Albanians are an ethnic majority.
But the biggest problem is yet to come and that is something that president Vucic announced himself, although it is not clear what gives him the authority to make such decisions (the Constitution does not, nor the Serbian laws do). He suggested the so-called “Macedonian model” for abortion procedures. Worldwide, the model is similar to the “heart-beat abortions” model. Every woman who wants to abort, the president said, must spend two days in a hospital and she will have to listen to the heartbeats of the fetus through ultrasound. If there are “heartbeats”, the abortion should not be allowed.
Current laws in Serbia allow free abortion up to 10 or 12 weeks of pregnancy. Up to ten weeks the woman is completely free to decide if she wants to abort, but up to twelve, she needs to ask a permission of a medical committee, which approves abortion if the woman gives any specific reason, such as economic issues. It is enough for her just to say so; no documentation is needed as a proof. President Vucic already said that he expects protests from NGOs and feminists, but: “It is my duty as a president to warn you about catastrophic consequences of the situation and I am not interested in listening to the contra-arguments neither from Serbian society or internationally.” So far, there is no information if there will be changes in Serbian legislation when it comes to reproductive freedoms, but in the past six years, it became a common practice for the ruling majority to silently pass laws that limit civil rights of citizens.
On the other hand, Macedonia, the only country in Europe that applies very strict heartbeat abortion law, decided to pull it out this March, after the fall of authoritarian President Nikola Gruevski. The model that Vucic suggests for Serbia was applied for more than three years. According to the data of Macedonian female rights NGO H.E.R.A, many women had serious health issues, many of them facing septic shock and death risk. The most common problem was draconic financial fees for doctors who do not follow “three days in the hospital” procedure, so in many cases of miscarriages, women were forced to wait for three days for a surgery because doctors were not certain if they are legally allowed to operate. Luckily for Macedonian women, the law will soon be changed and the government is working on a new one with medical experts and female rights organizations.
The biggest problem with heartbeat abortions is the fact that they do not have any scientific basis. According to several gynaecologists that we talked to, even if there is so-called “heartbeat” activity, about 5 to 10 percent of pregnancies will miscarry due to other abnormalities of the fetus or pregnancy complications. Also, there is still a scientific dispute if “heartbeat” is a correct term for the activity because at the stage of six weeks of pregnancy there are no formed organs. So we are talking about very primitive cell structure that pulsates and sounds like a heartbeat but it is not an organ and, according to scientists, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a heart and it is certainly not a fully developed heart.