Hungarian doctors, opposition protest ‘cruel’ change in abortion rules

BUDAPEST: Hungarian doctors and some opposition parties protested on Wednesday (Sep 14) against a pending change in abortion rules that will require pregnant women to prove they had seen a definitive sign of life from the foetus before requesting the procedure.

Re-elected in April, nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces his toughest term in power since a 2010 landslide with the forint skirting all-time lows, energy costs surging and European Union funds in limbo amid a row over democratic standards.

Orban, whose Fidesz party has amended the definition of family in the constitution to allow an effective ban on adoption by same-sex couples, is also locked in a legal battle with the EU executive over a law curtailing LGBTQ+ rights.

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter submitted an amendment to abortion rules this week requiring pregnant women to submit evidence from their healthcare provider of a definitive sign of life, widely interpreted as hearing the heartbeat of the foetus.

The changes were brought about by government decree and are set to take effect on Thursday.

The Hungarian Medical Chamber said the largely procedural changes did not go against its ethical code founded on the protection of life.

However, it said Orban’s government should have launched a social dialogue before implementing them, a practice often criticised by various parts of society and business groups facing similar abrupt changes in key legislation.

The opposition Jobbik party welcomed what it called a pro-life slant of the changes, but also criticised the lack of consultation before the proposal was pushed ahead.

The liberal opposition Parbeszed party said the changes were unacceptable and urged the interior minister to withdraw the decree.

“This amendment not only restricts the right of pregnant women to terminate their pregnancies, but it creates an extremely onerous and unnecessarily cruel situation for all involved as well as doctors,” it said in a statement.

Some political analysts said the move could be aimed at clipping the wings of the far-right Our Homeland party, which was elected into parliament in April and originally campaigned for the changes.

“This could be a good tool to mobilise more conservative voters or to prevent excessive gains for Our Homeland to the detriment of Fidesz,” said political analyst Attila Tibor Nagy.

Women’s rights group Patent has called a rally against the changes for late September.