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Hungarian women must hear foetus' heartbeat before abortion decision

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By Rita Palfi with Joshua Askew
A medical worker shows an ultrasound image of a foetus.
A medical worker shows an ultrasound image of a foetus.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ted Jackson

Hungarian women wanting an abortion will be made to listen to the foetus' heartbeat before going through with the procedure, according to a new change in the law announced on Tuesday.

The measure, signed off by Interior Minister Sandor Pinter, obliges pregnant women seeking a termination to first obtain a report from an obstetrician-gynaecologist, stating that they have been confronted "in a clearly identifiable way" with the “vital functions” of the foetus.

The law will come into force on 15 September.

Far-right Hungarian MP Dóra Dúró, who has campaigned for the amendment to the law, welcomed the decision in a Facebook post.

"The government has taken a step towards protecting all foetuses from conception, as there will be at least a few seconds when a foetus can communicate with its mother by listening to its heartbeat before an abortion is carried out," she wrote.

The law around abortions "is not set in stone in a Christian country worthy of the name. Let's write history!" she added, thanking pro-life organisations for their support.

Esély az életre: ezentúl meghallgatják a magzat szívhangját az anyák! Hosszú évek küzdelme után végre megvalósult: a Mi...

Posted by Dúró Dóra on Monday, September 12, 2022

'Worrying step backwards'

Abortions in Hungary have been legal since the 1950s. In most cases, the procedure can be performed until the 12th week of pregnancy, but there are exceptions where this can be extended up to 24 weeks.

Hungarian politicians, civil society groups and MEPs have slammed the move.

The Hungarian government “is banning abortion quietly, without consulting women,” said opposition MP Tímea Szabó. “Once again, men alone decide fates.”

"Abortion is nobody's hobby. But to deny help for women and not to ask their opinions is barbaric, sneaky and stomach-churning,” he added, calling on the interior minister to withdraw the measure “immediately”.

NGO Amnesty International called the legal change a "worrying step backwards".

This decision taken "without any consultation" will make "access to abortion more difficult" and "will further traumatise women already in difficult situations", spokesman Aron Demeter told reporters.

In a statement on Monday, the Interior Ministry said that “nearly two-thirds of Hungarians associate the beginning of a child’s life with the first heartbeat.” 

It also said that modern equipment can detect heartbeats early in pregnancy which can provide “more comprehensive information for pregnant women.”

Hungary’s nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, portrays itself as a champion of traditional family values and has offered significant tax breaks and subsidies for families that have more than one child in an effort to increase the country’s declining fertility rate.

Since his return to power in 2010, Orbán has upped the number of birth control measures, moving Hungary towards an increasingly conservative and religious regime.

In 2011, the Hungarian government was found to have financed an anti-abortion campaign with European funds, which provoked the anger of the European Commission.

Speaking about Tuesday’s law change, Ska Keller, a German MEP of the Greens–European Free Alliance group, said: “It's always the women who suffer most from far-right governments because their own bodily independence has been challenged. They have been told how they could live and what to do with their own body."

“I think that it's so inhumane that a government thinks that they can own the body of an independent person, of a woman,” Keller added. “We see that unfortunately happening everywhere.”

Euronews asked the Hungarian government to respond to this article but had not received a response at the time of publication.