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Hungary Has a New Heartbeat Rule
Postliberal Order talks with Miklós Szánthó about Hungary’s efforts to protect fetal life
Miklós Szánthó is the director of the Center for Fundamental Rights, a conservative research center and think tank in Budapest. Earlier this year, the Center hosted the first “CPAC Hungary” event, drawing conservative thinkers from Europe and the United States. Postliberal Order’s Gladden Pappin caught up with him to talk about Hungary’s new regulation on abortion.
Miklós Szánthó: The current Hungarian regulation concerning the protection of the life of the fetus was laid down in the 1990s and reviewed by the Constitutional Court several times, and can be characterized as relatively unrestrictive by European standards. The Hungarian Constitution adopted in 2011, however, underlines that “the life of the fetus shall be protected from the moment of conception.” In the current interpretation, this means that it is the duty of the Hungarian state to protect fetal life, by providing medical and social protection to the pregnant mother and the fetus.
“Let’s Protect the Children!” reads a poster prior to Hungary’s child protection referendum.
It is important to note that the national law governing abortions was not changed. Act LXXIX of 1992 on the protection of fetal life allows abortions in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy for women who describe it as causing a “personal crisis,” and in the case of rape. Abortion in this period is also permissible for less severe health reasons. A pregnancy may be terminated at any point if it threatens the life of the mother, or if the fetus develops a medical condition incompatible with life post-birth. An amendment concerning fetal viability has been issued to an already existing ministerial decree issued by the Minister of Welfare in 1992 to facilitate the execution of Act LXXIX of 1992 on the protection of fetal life. The long-standing decree addresses various technical requirements, the tasks of health care institutions, administrative and bureaucratic issues. It includes the questionnaire I refer to in the next sentence.
The most recent amendment by the interior minister, Sándor Pintér, adds a line to the questionnaire that pregnant women need to fill out before this tragic procedure can proceed. [The official text is here. —Eds.] It requires that women will have to receive a medical evaluation that demonstrates the viability of the baby. This includes evidence of a fetal heartbeat—but the heartbeat standard is merely one of several medical findings that demonstrate viability, not the sole one.
GJP: Amnesty International called this new rule “a worrying step backwards.” How does Hungary deal with the lobbying efforts of foreign NGOs like Amnesty International and Planned Parenthood, which use Brussels and the UN to achieve goals contrary to the goods of countries? How can leaders protect their people against these large, well-funded movements that threaten the person and the family?
Miklós Szánthó: In general, liberal groups that aim to influence and shape policy decisions have, over many decades, and with great wealth, built up a highly efficient global network. They use various tools to manipulate international organizations and, in the case of national governments like Hungary, they use outright coercion to achieve goals quite different from our own. It’s now commonplace to observe this nexus of loosely allied, dynamic networks that cooperate instinctively around issues that they care about, by launching simultaneous influence campaigns in the global and national press, in international organizations, through special interest groups, on the internet and even in the courtroom. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is an observable conspiracy in practice, and it threatens the cornerstone of a democratic society: popular legitimacy.
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In the particular case of Hungary, these quasi-NGOs have increased their activities since 2010 when the current conservative government was first elected. So, we’ve had to deal with their meddling on every major issue from media law, to migration, to the response to the COVID pandemic. Their work is aimed at undermining the ability of elected officials to wield legitimate political power on behalf of the citizens that elected them. A highly visible aspect of this strategy is unceasing attempts to outsource national, local competences to the federal level, to Brussels, often in direct contradiction to the treaties that govern the European Union. We have also encountered a number of political attacks from EU institutions. In my assessment, our country is a particular target for them not because we are especially vulnerable but because their tactics demonstrably fail in Hungary, where the citizens have elected conservative governments for the last twelve years—each time empowering them with a two-thirds supermajority in Parliament. Hungary remains a country where elections matter more than the aspirations of progressive influence groups. Our democracy threatens their otherwise unchecked power.
It’s true that in recent years, an immune response has developed on the right—and this frustrates our progressive brothers. It especially frustrates them to see increasing cooperation between conservatives on the international stage. This is what threatens the globalist postmodern Left, which has deployed essentially identical tactics in all Western societies to undermine the dearest values and principles of nations. A highly visible example of this international cooperation of the national forces is CPAC, which came to Europe for the first time, when CPAC Hungary was held in May of this year.
GJP: At CPAC Dallas, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated, “In the last ten years the number of marriages has doubled and the number of abortions has halved in Hungary. It’s not a bad start.” What are the methods for making continued progress on this issue?
Miklós Szánthó: Family policy has been a central element of the conservative government’s work since 2010 and it forms one of the pillars of the governing philosophy of Fidesz, together with the idea of the “workfare state.” It comes with an earnest realization that raising children in the twenty-first century comes with an ever-growing financial burden for young parents—but first and foremost, that having children is the most precious gift God can give. Hungary has worked systematically towards alleviating those burdens, by implementing step-by-step changes to taxation, benefits and other family policy support. These include wide-ranging tax exemptions. For instance mothers with four children do not pay income tax. They also include housing aids, loans at a discount rate guaranteed by the state, and investment schemes that grow at a guaranteed or accelerated rate.
The financial aspect to the family policy approach is not the only one, perhaps not even the most important one. Hungarian decision-makers understand that a family-friendly atmosphere, a country that remains safe for children and young parents, is crucial. In today’s Hungary starting a family commands respect in society—it is becoming more and more cool to raise children. Hungarians understand that, despite all the difficulties, they enter the happiest phase of their lives when they decide to become parents, and they feel the support of not just their friends and families, but the country as a whole. This approach is in line with the expectations of the society: a national referendum this April showed that an overwhelming majority of Hungarians want children to be protected from all the harmful influences of the postmodern globalist Left—including gender propaganda—that are out there causing real harm to persons, families and thus also nations. This ranks among the greatest achievements of this conservative decade.
GJP: I wonder if you might further elaborate on that point. In the West we are seeing an over-the-top effort, especially by liberal corporations as well as schools, to propagandize children with information designed to confuse them. Clearly Hungary is being confronted with the same effort, but you’ve been ahead of the international curve in responding to the threat. What exactly have you done, and what are you doing now to prevent it?
Miklós Szánthó: We had the advantage of being forewarned. We saw the first frightening consequences of this “LGBTQIAP+” ideology in the West before the liberal networks started work on sensitizing Hungarian society in earnest. As a result, we had the opportunity to strengthen our defenses, before they could strike. By the time the Hungarian Constitution was amended to state that “The mother shall be a woman, the father shall be a man,” our conservative movement was already aware of the obvious attempt by the postmodern Left and their liberal allies to subvert the family and traditional gender roles in North America. Moreover, the European Parliament adopted a resolution a year ago, declaring that men also have the right to be pregnant. So the Hungarian legislation in 2020 served as a preemptive strike against the gender lobby, but also prompted them to become more active.
In 2021, the National Assembly adopted the Child Protection Law, which reduced the quasi-NGOs’ ability to reach children, and had the effect of drawing them into open battle before they were quite ready to unfurl their true banners. This, in turn, led to their catastrophic defeat this spring at the above-mentioned Child Protection Referendum. We must remain vigilant, but as of now our kids are safe because we’ve made common sense and the natural order to be the rule, rather than the exception in Hungary.
GJP: Hungary has become famous for its pro-family policies. What is roughly the current state of the family support policies and what are the main challenges that they face in the current economic crisis?
Miklós Szánthó: Various types of financial support for families have more than doubled in a little over a decade of conservative pro-family policies: the goal of the whole strategy is of course to boost demography, to let every wanted children to be born and to establish an environment in which women are able to find a healthy balance between family and job—e.g. nearly doubling the capacity of nursery schools served this latter one.
In 2022, Hungary will spend over 8.5 billion dollars on supporting families and children, if we include the cost of a massive tax rebate that families received early this year to help them kickstart their normal life after the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This is more than 5 percent of the GDP, the highest ratio allocated for family-support in the EU. The government has pledged to maintain the family policy initiatives despite difficult times ahead for all of Europe. Prime Minister Orbán has recently expressed his determination to preserve the pillars of Hungarian common good measures: full employment, affordable energy for households, energy security, solidarity with the elderly, maintaining a close bond with Hungarians living outside our borders, and naturally: support for the families.
GJP: What impact does the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the United States have on the pro-life cause in Hungary?
Miklós Szánthó: Roe has stirred up passions in the United States, but not so much in Europe and especially Hungary. What we experience here is serious demographic problems. And that is actually a step up, because a decade ago we were in a profound demographic crisis—compared to the 1.21 fertility rate of 2010 we reached at least nearly 1.6 in 2020, despite the pandemic. What moved the needle in the right direction is slowly making the atmosphere ever more pro-family. That is why young men and women decide to set out on the greatest adventure of their lifetime—raising kids—because they feel the support and care of all of society, the entire nation. The state’s pledge to take some of the financial burden off of the shoulders of aspiring moms and dads also helps.