Hungary tightens abortion access with listen to ‘foetal heartbeat’ rule | Hungary

Hungarian women seeking an abortion will be obliged to “listen to the foetal heartbeat” before they can access the procedure, according to a new decree issued by the government of the far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

The new regulation is due to come into force on Thursday.

“Nearly two-thirds of Hungarians associate the beginning of a child’s life with the first heartbeat,” the interior ministry said on Monday.

Since Orbán came to power in 2010, his government has pushed “traditional family values” and introduced a series of measures aimed at boosting the country’s falling birthrate. However, it had not previously attempted to amend Hungary’s relatively liberal abortion laws.

Similar legislation has been introduced in many southern US states, such as Texas and Kentucky, requiring women to hear the “foetal heartbeat” before accessing abortion as part of “informed consent”, even though doctors say use of the term “foetal heartbeat” is medically inaccurate.

There have been no changes to Hungary’s abortion laws since 1992. According to current legislation, terminations can be carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy on medical or social grounds. In cases where the foetus is not viable, it can be performed at any point in the pregnancy.

However, a woman seeking an abortion needs a letter from a gynaecologist confirming the pregnancy, and has to visit family services twice, at least three days apart, where she is given counselling on adoption and state benefits for mothers. Only then can she access a referral for an abortion at a hospital.

The new legislation is an extension of the government’s anti-abortion policies, aimed at boosting the birthrate, said Noá Nógradí from Patent, a Hungarian women’s rights organisation.

“In Hungary, abortion is widely accepted in society. Statistically, two-thirds of Hungarians would not like to see further abortion restrictions,” she said. “So the government cannot outlaw the procedure overnight. But taking a series of small steps towards restriction can pass more easily.”

Nógrádi added that legal abortions had become increasingly difficult as the compulsory counselling sessions were becoming more aggressive and difficult to schedule.

“You can readily observe in the government’s communication that it has become more hardline in terms of assigning women the role of birth-givers and care providers,” she said

Most medical experts regard the term “foetal heartbeat” as misleading when referring to the early weeks of pregnancy. The sound heard during early-term ultrasounds is generated by the ultrasound machine.

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