Women in Hungary seeking an abortion will be forced to listen for the “fetal heartbeat” before undergoing the procedure, according to a new decree from the nation’s right-wing government.
Under the ordinance, which will take effect Thursday, health care workers will have to provide pregnant women requiring an abortion “a clearly identifiable indication of fetal vital signs.”
The sign of the vital functions of a fetus is often associated with a heartbeat.
Doctors and critics fear that the new obligation proposed by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will tighten the country’s relatively liberal abortion rules. The procedure was legalized during the country’s socialist era in 1953.
“Nearly two-thirds of Hungarians associate the start of a child’s life with the first heartbeat,” the Hungarian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Modern equipment can detect heartbeats in early pregnancy which can provide “more comprehensive information for pregnant women,” the ministry added.
Since taking power in 2010, the country’s nationalist government has pushed “traditional family values” and offered tax breaks and subsidies to families with multiple children to raise the country’s declining birth rate.
In 2011, the government enshrined in the constitution that “the life of a fetus will be protected from conception”, without actively tightening abortion laws. Mr. Orban announced in 2019 that women with four children would be exempt from paying lifetime income tax.
The existing abortion law allows women to terminate their pregnancy in the first 12 weeks for medical or social reasons. But the exceptions allow resolution for up to 24 weeks.
Dora Duro, a deputy from the radical right-wing Nostra Patria party, took credit for the new order.
“This is the first pro-life move since abortion regulation in 1956, which breaks a decades-old taboo,” Ms. Duro wrote on Facebook.
The abortion law “is not set in stone in a Christian country worthy of the name. Let’s write history ”, added the legislator.
The order was criticized by doctors and some opposition members.
The Hungarian Chamber of Medicine has reportedly said the changes in the procedure violate its code of ethics founded on the protection of life.
The opposition party Jobbik welcomed the “pro-life” change while criticizing the government for abrupt degree without consultation.
The Parbeszed party – the most liberal opposition – said the changes were unacceptable and urged the interior minister to withdraw the decree.
“This amendment not only limits the right of pregnant women to terminate pregnancy, but creates an extremely burdensome and unnecessarily cruel situation for all involved as well as for doctors,” reads a statement.