This summer, the Supreme Court overturned Roe, marking a major shift in American abortion debate. Democrats are now on the offensive. California, Michigan, Vermont and Vermont have placed abortion on this November’s ballot, confident that their permissive laws–legal abortion up to the point in Vermont–will be supported by the public.
The organizers of the annual D.C. March for Life announced that the march will not end at the Supreme Court like in years past but at the U.S. Capitol Building. This is symbolic of the shift from legislatures to courts. The Roe end was both a victory many decades in the making, and a beginning of a new political reality. The pro-life movement has swept into high levels of public support in many states for abortion. In reliably red Kansas, voters rejected a prolife constitutional referendum in August. The predictions that Dobbs will be a major victory for Democrats in the midterms are numerous.
The question of political feasibility in an anti-abortion culture is crucial for those who are dedicated to protecting unborn human life. Hungary is a country that is familiar with this dilemma.
The central European nation has been at the forefront of the international culture wars in recent years. Hungarians have been a target of criticism from the left on immigration and homosexual marriage. They also won the admiration from the right over teaching LGBT ideology to students in schools. The Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas gave Viktor Orban’s speech standing ovation. Major US media outlets, such as the New York Times or Washington Post , recognize Orban’s dangerous authoritarian status.
However, abortion is one topic that has received less attention. The fact that abortion in Hungary is legal in 1992 and that it has undergone very few changes may reduce the enthusiasm of American social conservators. The law allows women to seek abortion at any time after 12 weeks of pregnancy. There are no restrictions and a variety of exceptions that can be used up to 24 weeks. Orban went as far as to state last month that does not intend altering the status quo.
This despite 12 consecutive years of leadership from the right-wing Fidesz party, and a constitution which states that “embryonic as well as fetal life shall all be protected starting at the moment of conception.”
It would be unfair to say that Hungary is not interested in the matter. Public opinion, as in post- Roe America is a major hurdle to legislating for the good of life. A 2021 Ipsos poll found that 59% of respondents agreed that abortion should be allowed whenever a woman chooses to have one.
These dynamics are rooted in Hungary’s four-decade experience with abortion under socialist regimes. Edit Frivaldszky is director of the Center for Human Dignity. The state’s promotion and support of abortion as family planning led to more than a decade where abortions outnumbered births. Six million abortions were performed in a country with just under ten millions people since legalization in 1953. Acceptance was widespread and dissent was forbidden.
Frivaldszky believes that legalizing abortion must be a goal. However, Frivaldszky admits that it is impossible to repeal the abortion laws at the moment. The implementation of soft measures in Hungary over the years has been a common practice, as has been the case in the United States. The latest, which was introduced in September, is a requirement that unborn children listen to their heartbeat before they decide to have an abortion. Frivaldszky asserts that “This government has been good and is even more pro-life than we could have expected”
Hungarian and American pro-life approaches differ in a key way. Hungary is focused on using government to eradicate the factors that encourage women to have abortions. Fidesz’s Family Policy is a great example of this. Frivaldszky explained that the Hungarian government views families as an important resource for the country’s long-term success. According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, it has spent over 4 per cent of Hungary’s GDP each year on family policy since 2012. Hungary has tried to end abortion at its root by providing financial assistance for couples and changing attitudes towards family.
Frivaldszky says that financial support for families will make it less likely that mothers have to choose between keeping their child or economic security. She says that people choose abortion when they feel unsafe. Hungary provides benefits to this end such as lifetime exemption from taxes and student debt cancellation for mothers with more than three children, financial assistance for families looking to buy or construct a home, three-year maternity leaves, and loans that are not due until the third child is born.
Balazs Molnar is the vice president for strategy and co-ordination at the publicly funded Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families. The statistics show the effect such policies have had upon the abortion rate. His institute’s data shows that annual abortion rates have dropped by 40% between 2010 and 2020 from more than 40,000 to less than 24,000. This is attributed to the drop in Hungary’s fertility rates, which have been rising since 2011, surpassing the E.U. Average in 2018. Fidesz was also able to point out that there was an increase in third-child births shortly after Fidesz became power. Frivaldszky points out that it was more common for women than with their first child to have an abortion of their third one.
The annual marriage rate has increased by 102%, while the divorce rates have dropped 24%. Abortions among married women have also fallen from 45 to 23 percent. While abortions in Hungary have declined since the mid-90s Molnar believes that Hungary’s family policies are a key factor in this trend.
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He believes that the pro-family message of the government is even more important than financial measures. He explains that having more than one child was once a source for social shame in a married couple. This is changing. He says, “What we’re trying to do in Hungary is give the social recognition back the traditional family.” “Young people are able to see older families with two, three, four or five children, that] doesn’t require them to work three shifts just to support their family.”
Hungary relies heavily on symbolic measures to encourage motherhood, child-rearing, family life, and self-determination. The government promoted family activities and festivals. An advertisement campaign stated that having a family is an adventure worth living. Molnar also points out that benefits for children are not available at birth but after thirteen weeks of development in a mother’s womb.
Fridvaldszky claims that during the socialist era, government messaging about abortion made it “part of the culture.” Today’s government wants to make culture so precious that children are valued as a gift. Frivaldszky believes that the ultimate goal of Frivaldszky is to create a society where protecting the unborn does not require the use of abortion bans. American pro-lifers, while still trying to pass abortion bans wherever possible, may soon come to the same conclusion.