“I feel that it was a mistake, but it was a mistake I had to make,” 25-year-old M.R. says about her abortion. She thinks that most people consider her a murderer, a child killer – cold-blooded and calculating – for making the decision to terminate her pregnancy.
“I was almost 19. One night I made an impulsive decision, which then led to a positive pregnancy test a few weeks later. I had no job and no chance of getting one, and I had parents who wouldn’t have been able to take it. Everything was against me and my chances to be a normal mother. Here, it seems as though a woman is forever marked by abortion. Just listen to what they are saying about us. Like we are worth less because we had no other option,” says M.R. “Not even those closest to me know and I just couldn’t bring myself to tell them. Knowing what the usual reactions to this sort of thing are, I’m not even sure whether I would admit it to my future husband. It is something I have to deal with every day. I am always reminded of it by comments from people who don’t know I’ve had an abortion,” she explains.
She says that she doesn’t need people to understand her choice; she only wants them to respect the decisions of women who have had abortions. “In hindsight, I was stupid and naive, but I would have made an even bigger mistake by giving birth. I still don’t have a permanent job today. How was I supposed to raise a child?” M.R. asks.
M.R.’s story is not unique. Countless women in BiH share a similar experience, and there is no precise data on the number of abortions performed in the country. It is estimated that there are around 60,000 abortions performed every year, but there is no comprehensive data on the state level as entities, cantons, municipalities, and private clinics all collect their own data.
“Unfortunately, most abortion requests stem from unplanned pregnancies that could have been prevented by contraceptives,” says gynecologist Slobodan Đerić. Due to doctor-patient confidentiality, he declined to reveal the number of abortions performed at his clinic.
“In the media we often see headlines speculating on the number of abortions, but the focus should instead be on prevention,” he says. “If women are having abortions because the pregnancy was unplanned, they don’t have a job, or they don’t think they will make good mothers, there are many means for prevention. Abortion must not be a method of contraception and such a practice has to stop,” says Đerić.
He states that the legal framework on abortion is clear. “Termination is legal until week 10 of the pregnancy, and there is no argument about that. For a termination in the later stages of pregnancy, you need the consent of an ethics committee, but those are difficult and complicated cases. The law is clear and women enjoy that right, but it is still far from being socially acceptable,” explains Đerić.
According to him, the doctor’s duty is completely clear although they might have their own ethical dilemmas and personal views on abortion. “That, of course, doesn’t mean that my colleagues or I have the right to interfere with someone’s decision. It is up to us, though, to point out all the possible consequences of such a procedure so that the patient is fully informed,” he explains.
M.R. recalls her experience with the gynecologist: “the most difficult thing for me to hear was that there was a possibility I could become sterile afterward. I couldn’t bear the thought of not ever being a mother because of that one night. That is why I tell others to be careful because once something like this happens, you are left alone with your problem.”
Biljana Milošević Šošo, professor of sociology at the Pale Faculty of Philosophy, feels that the issue of abortion, regardless of the legal solutions, is always subject to debate. “Religious communities have clear views and when you look at how many religious people you have in a society, it is only logical to consider their views,” she says.
“The problem is that sexuality and everything related to it is viewed as taboo. When you add to that that one of the primary roles of women in our society is motherhood, the topic of abortion becomes one that is either not discussed, or is discussed with a sentiment of disgust,” professor Milošević Šošo explains.
The professor notes the recent UN decision that newly defines abortion as a woman’s human right that cannot be disputed. “It is important to find a compromise between the law and the general sentiments within a society. If abortion is going to put a woman’s health at risk or prevent her from having healthy relationships with her friends or spouse, then sooner or later her decision will lead to serious problems,” she says.
Aleksandra Petrić, a publically-engaged feminist in BiH, draws attention to the strengthening of center-right parties in various European countries, which is a trend that could significantly change access to the right to abortion. “Some women view it as if it is their duty to reproduce and further our species — basically as if women have no say, in the matter and it is simply their duty,” Petrić says.
With regard to the situation in BiH, Aleksandra stresses that “the legal solution is favorable for now, but that can easily change. The bigger problem lies in what is happening at home, in the streets, and in the media when it comes to a woman’s right to an abortion.”
Petrić explains that women must constantly remind society that their bodies belong to them and them alone. “A country cannot find the tools for social prosperity in a woman’s body and we have to clearly stress that so that we don’t lose our hard-earned legal progress,” she concludes.