More than 1,000 Hungarians protested on Wednesday against a change in abortion rules that took effect on September 15, which women’s rights groups say would “humiliate” and torment women while having no effect on the number of abortions.
Under the rules amended by Conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, pregnant women must submit evidence from their healthcare provider of a definitive sign of life, widely interpreted as the heartbeat of a foetus, before requesting the procedure.
The government gave no reason for the change and denied it would amount to a tightening of rules. Some political analysts have said it could be aimed at winning votes for Orban’s Fidesz party from the far-right Our Homeland party, which won seats in parliament for the first time in April, and had campaigned for these changes to abortion rules.
“Although the government pretends to be ‘pro-life’, these measures do not protect a single life: the real purpose of the sneaking restriction is the humiliation of women and to exercise control over women’s lives,” organisers said in a statement.
They called on Orban’s government to provide safe living conditions for women expecting children and to make contraception accessible to everyone.
Protesters, some of whom carried placards saying “My body, my life, my decision” or “Free of charge contraception for everyone,” gathered outside Hungary’s parliament and planned to march to the Interior Ministry, which drew up the reforms.
“I think this is a very bad requirement as going for an abortion in itself is… a hugely traumatising experience,” said Laura Fekete, 22, a student, referring to the change which means women must effectively have heard the foetus’ heartbeat.
“I believe it is up to each and every individual to decide if they want to have a child or not… and the government should not meddle in this.”
Current rules allow Hungarian women to request an abortion in cases of rape, risks to the mother’s health from the pregnancy, a severe disability of the unborn child or in case of a serious personal crisis.
The number of abortions fell to about 22,000 in Hungary last year from over 90,000 in 1990 based on official statistics.
Nearby Poland, among Europe’s most devoutly Catholic countries, has a near-total ban on abortion.