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Killing Grga: A Late-Term Abortion Case that Shook Croatia

by Kristina Artuković

This past April, Mirela, a 39-year-old yoga instructor from Croatia, was told her unborn child Grga had a brain tumor at six months gestation. Mirela decided to abort Grga, whom she named so during the pregnancy. She requested a late-term abortion at four major Croatian hospitals; after failing to get the response she hoped for, she hired a lawyer and went public with her story. Then all hell broke loose.

Croatia allows abortion for any reason up to 10 weeks after conception, and up-to-term only in cases involving rape, fetal disability or a threat to the life of the mother. Later abortions have to be approved by hospital committees, a first-tier and a second-tier committee. If late-term abortion is denied by the first-tier committee, the person can appeal to the second-tier committee, whose decision is final. Many countries in the region, like Slovenia and Serbia, share very similar legislation, stemming from the abortion law of the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This is important, since Grga’s story spans across the region.

Contrary to the main narrative, Mirela was not denied the termination of her pregnancy. When it comes to pregnancies past viability, the legal expression “termination of pregnancy” allows for two options in practice: induced pre-term labor or feticide. As it turned out, no Croatian doctor was willing to perform feticide after 22 weeks gestation. In fact, there is a nationwide medical protocol for preserving the baby's life when the baby is capable of surviving outside of the womb. Mirela was offered a more ethical form of pregnancy termination, after which Grga would receive relevant care. But Mirela wanted Grga dead, and according to the law, she had that right, too.

The media made sure to muddy the waters by inaccurately connecting Mirela’s case with medical conscientious objection. The idea that people should not be hired as OB-GYNs if they plan to invoke conscientious objection to abortion became an overnight sensation.

Although bound to an almost identical abortion law, OB-GYNs from neighboring Slovenia do not have different medical protocols in regards to termination before and after fetal viability. In an interview, Mirela praised Slovenian doctors for “not forcing parents to care for a mentally impaired child for the rest of their lives.'' Grga was seven gestational months old when Mirela requested abortion in Slovenia.

Six snippets of the events that followed:

One. Several Croatian NGOs crowdfunded the 3,000 euros (around 3,050 USD) required for killing Grga in Slovenia. The sum collected within the first 48 hours was ten times the target amount.

Two. Slovenian abortionist OB-GYNs trolled their Croatian colleagues for “not knowing how to perform feticide.” Serbian colleagues boasted how “effective” their hospital ethical committees are when it comes to abortion, especially in cases of severe fetal impairments.

Three. The expression “to live like a vegetable” became a buzz phrase used for Grga: by Mirela herself, by pro-choice doctors, legal experts, abortion activists and resident theorists. Mainstream media mused on the point of offering medical care to a “life deprived of any human dignity.”

Four. Mirela published a letter to Grga, in which she wrote about how Grga whispered to her in a dream that “We’re doing the right thing.

Five. Pro-abortion protests arose in ten Croatian cities, supporting Mirela’s right to choose whom to give live birth to and demanding freedom from religion and freedom from conscience. Marches for life were also held in eleven cities, with parents of medically complex children speaking publicly about their kids’ inherent value and worth.

Six. Succumbing to the legality of Mirela’s choice, the Croatian Ministry of Health announced that the state health fund would cover all costs of Mirela’s abortion in Slovenia. The NGOs that raised the Grga-killing fund said the money would be “directed to women who do not have access to legally guaranteed reproductive care.”

This affair does not imply straightforward dehumanization. This is humanization warped; Grga has been simultaneously portrayed as entirely human and entirely unworthy of life. The line between a child (whispering his consent to death) and a plant (existing pointlessly) has been thoroughly blurred as the new normal of “reproductive rights.”