More than 1,000 Hungarians protested on Wednesday against a change in abortion rules that took effect on 15 September, 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 Orbán’s government, pregnant women must provide evidence from their healthcare provider of a definitive sign of life, widely interpreted as the heartbeat of a foetus, before requesting the procedure.
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 government did not provide a 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 Orbán’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 urged on Orbán’s government to provide safe living conditions for women expecting children and to improve accessibility to contraception.
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.
These protests occurred within the context of the annual International Safe Abortion Day celebration, an event which started off by campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion in Latin America.
Pro-choice protests on Wednesday also took place in Italy, which on 25 September elected a hard-right, largely anti-abortion bloc which will soon form a government.