The civil society group "Walk for Life" on Saturday morning organised an anti-abortion gathering in downtown Zagreb, with around 7,000 participants advocating dignity for human beings from conception to death, while in a nearby square a counter-gathering was held, with some 400 pro-choice activists.
Anti-abortion activists set out from the city's King Tomislav Square to the central Ban Josip Jelacic Square, and were met with catcalls and drumming while passing by Josip Juraj Strossmeyer Square, where pro-choice activists gathered. At one moment, there was pushing and shoving between the two groups but no major incidents were reported.
Carrying red, blue and white balloons, participants in the anti-abortion protest gathered in King Tomislav Square, where a bus was parked, with singers singing on it.
The protest, held under the slogan "For life, the family and Croatia", is the first "national march for life."
The pro-life marchers said their peaceful march was aimed at underlining the dignity and value of each human life from conception to natural death, and the fact that a human being is of the greatest value for the family and Croatia.
Addressing the pro-life marchers in the central city square, the event's coordinator, Hajdi Begovic, said that it was a sad fact that as many as 75% of women who opt for abortion do so for economic reasons, while 30% of women who return to work after maternity leave receive a lower salary and 20% cannot return to their job.
"We in Croatia are a good society, we show solidarity with our elderly and with young people, we care about one another and do not want anyone to persuade us that it is not so. I think this is the beginning of something beautiful. What is Croatia without Croats?," she said.
The "Walk for Life" initiative consists of the associations "Choose Life", SKAC, "In the name of the family", Vigilare, the Heart of Jesus prayer group, the Neocatechumenal Way, God's Victory, families and individuals.
The "Walk for Life" rally was supported, among others, by Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic's wife Sanja.
The newly-established civil society group "Defend the right to choice" said they wanted to warn about media spins by neoconservative activist groups that were aimed at restricting women's right to a safe, medically assisted termination of pregnancy.
The pro-choice protesters displayed banners reading "Only a secular state can guarantee equality" and "No going back to illegal abortion".
The rally was addressed by representatives of the Women's Network Croatia, the Platform 112 civil society association, the Kontra lesbian group, the Welcome initiative, and Zagreb Pride.
The coordinator of the civil society group "Defend the right to choice", Bojana Genov, said that they gathered under the message that the right to control one's own reproductive role must stay protected.
"We are against those who want to ban abortion and who under the pretext of care for the family attack the family because it denies them the autonomy and possibility of making a decision without outside interference. The existing law (regulating medically assisted termination of pregnancy), which has been in force for decades, is a very good and modern law and should be protected," Genov said.
She said that care should also be taken of women who, in case abortion was banned, would be exposed to unprofessional medical interventions that might result in death.
Natasa Bajagic of the Civil Initiative Centre said that data on the number of cases of pregnancy termination was being manipulated because the number of abortions was five times lower than in the early 1990s. "In 2015, there were 2,992 abortions," she said.
The pro-choice rally was joined by former Labour Minister Mirando Mrsic, who said that no government could strip women of the right to choice and reproductive health.
He recalled that some doctors quoted conscientious objection as the reason not to perform an abortion, but that the role of healthcare professionals was to provide all women with full medical care.
According to police estimates, around 7,000 people attended the pro-life rally, while the pro-choice rally drew around 400 people.