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Hungary enshrines 'fetal heartbeat' abortion law

September 13, 2022

Rights advocates have warned that the new statute will make it more difficult for women to access safe abortions. Far-right lawmakers hailed it as a "chance for life."

An anti-abortion porster in Hungary
Anti-abortion rhetoric and advertisements have been on the rise in Hungary in recent yearsImage: Bea Kallos/AFP/Getty Images

Rights advocates in Hungary were dismayed on Tuesday at the news that soon, women seeking abortions will be forced to listen to the fetal "heartbeat" before doctors can go ahead with the procedure.

"It is definitely a worrying step back, a bad sign," said Aron Demeter, spokesman for Amnesty International Hungary, told French news agency AFP. "This amendment achieves nothing, but will further traumatize women, put additional pressure on women who are already in a difficult place."

The amendment, which was published late on Monday, will go into effect on Thursday. 

Women in Hungary are allowed to access an abortion up until 12 weeks of pregnancy, sometimes later if there are severe health complications at play. They are also required to complete a counseling session first.

Under the new law, doctors must also issue a report that records that the pregnant woman was presented "with the factor indicating the functioning of fetal vital functions in a clearly identifiable manner."

Doctors and reproductive rights researchers have pointed out, in response to similar laws in other countries, that a "fetal heartbeat" is something of a misnomer, as the heart is not yet fully formed and the fluttering sound where a heart might develop comes long before limbs grow and brain activity begins.

Moreover, studies have shown that putting up such hurdles to terminating pregnancy makes it harder to access legal and safe abortions. 

Ruling party rolls back reproductive rights

The new amendment to Hungary's reproductive rights statute was pushed largely by the far-right Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) party, with lawmaker Dora Duro calling it a "chance for life" on her Facebook page.

While other EU countries have been expanding reproductive rights, the administration of arch-conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party has also supported rolling back laws amidst a drive to protect what it sees as traditional values and gender roles. This has included increasing benefits for mothers who stay at home and have more children and introducing anti-LGBT+ legislation.

Abortion in Europe scorned, concealed, prohibited

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the London-based think tank that monitors extremism, found in a 2021 report that Fidesz was working with "an international network of ultra-conservative organizations working to undermine and restrict sexual and reproductive health rights for women," with now-President Katalin Novak leading the charge in her previous role as family affairs minister.

Abortion was legalized in Hungary in 1953, and enshrined again, though with slightly more restrictive language, in 1992 following the demise of the Soviet Union and its influence in Budapest.

In 2012, Hungary adopted a new constitution that said "the life of the fetus is protected from conception," though it stopped short of outlawing the procedure.

es/wd (AFP, dpa)

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.