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HUNGARY’s government further tightens abortion law by decree

Hungary tightens abortion law by decree

In a sign of the extreme-right flexing its muscles, Hungary’s government amended the law to now require women requesting an abortion to prove they have seen the foetus’s vital signs.


Reporting Democracy (13.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3QOUrBP – Hungary’s nationalist-populist government amended the country’s abortion law following the lead of the extreme right, with women now needing to prove to doctors they have listened to the “heartbeat of their foetus” before gaining access to abortion services.


With this decree issued on Monday, Hungary joins a regional trend of conservative and religious forces trying to restrict women’s rights. In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal – stuffed with judges appointed by the populist right – tightened the existing legislation to virtually ban abortion. That same month, a group of ultra-conservative MPs in Slovakia tried, but narrowly failed, to impose new delays on women’s access to abortion by extending the current 48-hour mandatory waiting period to 96 hours.


In Hungary, the arrival of the extreme-right Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) party in parliament following the April general election appears to be pushing Viktor Orban’s government to further align itself with ultra-conservative forces, say experts.


Mi Hazank’s deputy president, Dora Duro, has long campaigned for the introduction of a “heartbeat” law ostensibly as a way reduce the number of abortions performed in the country.


In the government decree published in the National Gazette on Monday, it reads: “Foetal vital functions have to be presented to patients in a clearly identifiable manner”.


“I find it striking that the government introduces a measure which has a direct effect on women’s lives without any public consultation,” Reka Safrany, president of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby, told BIRN, saying it is a clear tightening of the current abortion legislation that, she fears, will further humiliate women.


“The government is sending the message to women that we have no control over our own bodies,” she added.


This is not the first time Fidesz has turned for inspiration to the far-right opposition. The government’s anti-LGBT campaign also began with Dura publicly shredding an LGBT-friendly children’s book in 2020, which was followed by legal restrictions on same-sex couples adopting.


Yet abortion has not traditionally been a particularly contentious issue in Hungary. Hungarian society is mostly pro-choice and the number of abortions has been steadily declining, from 56,000 in 2010 to 23,900 in 2020, due mostly to education but perhaps also to generous government policies supporting childbearing.


Current legislation allows women to request an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy if they feel “they are in a critical situation”. Even so, they need to take part in two compulsory consultations prior to abortion with childcare services, where they are often humiliated, women’s rights organisations allege.


Even though members of Hungary’s conservative government have repeatedly promised not to touch the country’s abortion laws, several steps taken over the last few years have raised fears among those campaigning for women’s rights.


The Hungarian constitution – written in 2012 by the current government – states that “a foetus has to be protected from conception”.


And in 2012, medical abortion (i.e., through use of an abortion pill) was banned by the Fidesz government, leaving women with no alternative to the much more traumatic surgical abortion.


The Fidesz government, along with a number of autocratic and oppressive regimes, is a co-sponsor of the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which campaigns against abortion and promotes the traditional family model.


President Katalin Novak said in a recent speech that she would support “protecting life from the moment of conception” and predicting that there might be steps taken towards tightening abortion rights.



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IRAN- New law violates women’s rights to sexual & reproductive health

IRAN: Population Law Violates Women’s Rights

Denies Access to Essential Reproductive Health Care, Information


Human Rights Watch (10.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/3naIw5S Iran’s new population law further violates women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health and puts women’s health and lives at risk, Human Rights Watch said today. Iranian authorities should immediately repeal the provisions that restrict human rights.


On November 1, 2021, Iran’s Guardian Council approved the “rejuvenation of the population and support of family” bill, which outlaws sterilization and free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system unless a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health. The bill, which adds to existing limits on access to contraception and abortion, will remain in effect for seven years. The bill, first approved by Parliament on March 16, is set to become law when it is signed and published in the official gazette, which is expected within the next month.


“Iranian legislators are avoiding addressing Iranians’ many serious problems, including government incompetence, corruption, and repression, and instead are attacking women’s fundamental rights,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The population growth law blatantly undermines the rights, dignity, and health of half of the country’s population, denying them access to essential reproductive health care and information.”


Over the past decade Iran has shifted its population planning from providing family planning and access to contraception, once seen as a success story by international organizations, to increasing population growth by undermining women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care. As a result of this new governmental demographic goal, several pieces of legislation have been proposed that discriminate against women to reinforce the concept of women’s primary role as mothers in charge of child-rearing. 


The bill provides various benefits to people with children, including increased employment benefits for pregnant women and those who breastfeed. It prohibits firing or transferring a working woman during pregnancy against her will. But it does not address the lack of anti-discrimination provisions in hiring practices, which can keep women out of the workforce.


Several articles further limit already restricted access to safe abortion. Article 56 mandates the Health Ministry to establish a committee that includes doctors, Islamic jurists, and representatives of the judiciary and the parliamentary health committee to draft new regulations for abortion that could lead to further restrictions. Under the current law, abortion can be legally performed during the first four months of pregnancy if three doctors agree that a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or the fetus has severe physical or mental disabilities that would create extreme hardship for the mother.


Similarly, article 59 mandates the Intelligence Ministry and other security agencies to identify and refer to judicial authorities cases of “illegal sale of abortion drugs, illegal abortion, websites gathering the list of abortion centers, those participating in illegal abortion, and medical advice outside the permission criteria for abortion, and elements advocating for illegal abortion.” Human Rights Watch has documented how frequently vaguely defined laws in Iran lead to prosecution of people for legitimate exercise of their rights, including free expression.


Article 17 includes several benefits for women, including nine months of fully paid maternity leave in all sectors, an option for working from home for up to four months during pregnancy, and an option to take leave for medical appointments for women with children under age 7. While the bill prohibits firing pregnant women and those who breastfeed, the law fails to prohibit discrimination in hiring and promoting employees. Human Right Watch research in 2017 showed that the absence of a comprehensive legal framework in this area allows public and private sector employers to openly adopt discriminatory hiring practices against women.


The bill prohibits production of cultural material against the country’s population policies and mandates Iran’s state broadcasting agency to produce programs encouraging women to have children and denouncing decisions to remain single, have fewer children, or have abortions.


It also mandates the Education and Science Ministries to produce education material on those topics, and to invest in research on the benefits of increased childbearing and harm caused by contraceptives and abortion. The ministries are also tasked with increasing education majors at universities “consistent with women’s role in the Islamic-Iranian culture including managing family and the house.”


Denial of access to safe, legal abortion puts the lives and health of women and girls at risk. Human Rights Watch has documented in countries around the world how criminalizing abortion and restricting access to contraceptives lead to more unsafe practices that endanger lives, and, in particular, affect women from marginalized backgrounds and survivors of rape and domestic and sexual violence. According to the World Health Organization, the rate of unsafe abortions is four times higher in countries with restrictive abortion laws than in countries where abortion is legal.


“This new law poses a serious risk to women’s health and lives and will have long-lasting harm,” Sepehri Far said. “Expecting to achieve population growth by restricting the right to health and privacy is a delusional understanding of policymaking and one that will only lead to rights abuses.


Photo credits: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

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