ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that a law allowing abortion that dates back to the Yugoslav era does not breach the constitution but said parliament should pass new abortion legislation within two years.
Pro-life groups first demanded a ban on abortion after staunchly Roman Catholic Croatia declared independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991 and have intensified their campaign in recent years.
The head of the Constitutional Court, Miroslav Separovic, told a news conference that current legislation allowing a woman to terminate up to the 10th week of pregnancy did not breach the constitution. The law dates from 1978 when Croatia was one of six Yugoslav republics.
Explaining Thursday's ruling, and the court's call for parliament to examine the issue, he said: "It is not up to the Constitutional Court to rule when human life begins."
Separovic said the new law "cannot ban abortion" but "must strike a balance between women's right to privacy and the protection of unborn life".
"The new law must define educational and preventive measures which would in practice make an abortion rather an exception ... We think that this is a rational, balanced and just ruling," Separovic said.
Doctors are allowed to refuse to assist in carrying out abortions in Croatia, where some 85 percent of people declare themselves to be Catholics.
Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Catherine Evans