Reproductive rights and the state in Serbia and Croatia

Jeremy Shiffman, Marina Skrabalo, Jelena Subotic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The global reproductive rights movement arose in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a challenge to the population control paradigm that has dominated family planning policy for almost half a century. The essence of the challenge is to place women into the center of population discussions as subjects, not objects of policy, and to reorient family planning and health programs toward meeting the broad reproductive health needs of individuals, rather than the narrow population control objectives of states. Reproductive rights advocates argue that the use of family planning programs for developmentalist-oriented population control objectives is illegimate, and inevitably relegates women to the status of depersonalized policy "targets". The cases of Croatia and Serbia, the two dominant partners in the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, offer interesting twists on these reproductive rights issues. In Croatia and Serbia, unlike in many nations, the governments are deliberately seeking to increase rather than decrease fertility levels. Moreover, the objective concerns identity politics, more so than development: the governments have encouraged increased fertility to safeguard the survival of their nations and to strengthen national power amidst threatening internal and external environments of ethnic conflict. In this paper, we examine the dynamics of pro-natalist fertility policy in Croatia and Serbia. We do so with a view to explaining why, despite similarities, the two have followed divergent paths. While reproductive rights violations have occurred in both nations, they have been markedly higher in Serbia than Croatia. To explain this divergence we look at a series of sociopolitical factors, including the space available for groups to mobilize in each political system; the degree of nationalistic extremism present in the discourse of central political leaders; and perceptions of threats and opportunities in external geopolitical environments. In conducting this analysis we seek to drive home the point that a nation's reproductive rights situation and prospects cannot be understood divorced from its sociopolitical context. We also raise an additional impetus for promoting the reproductive rights agenda - one largely unexplored in the family planning literature - that emerges from low fertility nations facing identity issues. Women's bodies must be protected not only against those states seeking to use their reproductive capacities for developmentalist-oriented fertility control, but also against those wanting their bodies for nationalistic-oriented fertility promotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-642
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Croatia
  • Fertility
  • Population control
  • Reproductive rights
  • Serbia
  • Socio-politics
  • The state

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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