It is truly amazing how much power and influence a nonexistent party can assert on its coalition partner. I’m talking about the Christian Democratic People’s Party or KDNP (Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt). This non-party, which is not even considered to be a full-fledged coalition party by Fidesz, has enormous influence, for example, on education.
The Christian Democrats worked hard to elevate the Catholic Church in Hungary to its current privileged position. As the political arm of that church, one of KDNP’s serious concerns is the sanctity of life, and that life, according to the teachings of the church, begins with conception. This issue caused quite a bit of friction between Fidesz and the Christian Democrats at the time the new constitution was being drafted. If it had depended on the most radical members of the KDNP caucus, Hungary today would have a constitution that forbids abortions altogether.
But here Viktor Orbán drew the line because he considered such a move political suicide. He left the door open, however, for further changes in the law. As the BBC’s Nick Thorpe remarked at the time, the new constitution “paves the way to limit abortion because of the paragraph that states that the life of the fetus will be protected from the moment of conception.”
Although the number of abortions in Hungary is far too high, the remedy is not prohibition. Unfortunately, the baby-loving government is not a promoter of contraception: “the pill” is not subsidized by the government.
In the last year or so we didn’t hear much on the subject of abortion. A notable exception was the clash between Brussels and Budapest in June 2011. As it turned out, Hungary received 16,000 euros for some project or other but the money was actually spent on an anti-abortion campaign. In charge of the project was Miklós Soltész, undersecretary for family and youth in the Ministry of National Resources (now more logically called the Ministry of Human Resources). And to which party does Soltész belong? You got it! KDNP. On the EU side of the controversy was Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, who has lately been a thorn in Viktor Orbán’s side. Reding demanded the return of the misspent money.
The current upheaval concerns the “abortion pill,” widely known as RU-486. The trade name of the drug to be distributed in Hungary, Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Romania, Sweden, and Slovakia is Medabon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion pill in 2000. The World Health Organization believes that RU-486 is a safe and effective treatment for terminating pregnancy. The pill is widely used all over the world and in France, for example, more than one-third of all abortions are done chemically.
So what happened in Hungary in the last few days? On May 19 a short article appeared in Magyar Nemzet informing its readers that the “abortion pill” had been approved by the Hungarian equivalent of the FDA. The newspaper actually lauded the procedure as easy and safe and it almost sounded as if they welcomed its appearance. The Christian Democratic politicians, however, took the other side of the argument. The KDNP caucus had a meeting on Monday morning where the decision was made to oppose the introduction of the drug in Hungary.
In medical matters the KDNP spokesman is Kálmán Nagy, an ordinary GP who speaks with such authority that it boggles the mind. He emphasized that his party is against all forms of abortion, but he and his colleagues have specific problems with the abortion pill. According to our expert, taking a pill has a greater negative psychological effect on the woman than surgical intervention. “At its early application it turned out to be fatal,” he misleadingly added.
Miklós Szócska, undersecretary in charge of health issues, had to answer Nagy. From his answer it was clear that he will not stand up to the latest attack of KDNP. He explained that “approval” of a drug doesn’t mean that it will be available and therefore used. He also explained that the Hungarian FDA had no choice: in 2009, when fourteen European countries approved it, the EU demanded that the rest of the EU countries follow suit. So, Szócska gave the impression that approval was unavoidable but that he can actually stop the sale of the drug in Hungary.
This, it seems, is not true. In fact, the formula that is in the abortion pill is already being used in Hungary if a doctor finds chemical preferable to surgical treatment. Only the registration of the drug was missing. As far as I can ascertain, Szócska can only decide whether the state insurance plan will pay for the the procedure. Looking at the price of the pill and its administration in other European countries, the cost should be around 40,000 Ft.
Of course, the leading lights of KDNP, Kálmán Nagy and Péter Harrach, are certain that “there will be no abortion pill in Hungary.” István Pálffy (KDNP), former TV personality, is also certain that the abortion pill will never be introduced in Hungary. According to him, the opinion of the World Health Organization and the medical profession is “rubbish” (marhaság). The marketing of Medabon is the result of lobbying on behalf of the manufacturers. This interview with Pálffy is available on video and is certainly worth watching. According to Nagy, “Miklós Szócska promised that this method of abortion will not be introduced in Hungary.” How will Szócska get out of this situation? I guess he will figure something out. These guys are inventive.
Both MSZP and DK immediately objected to the KDNP demand and the seeming agreement of Szócska with the Christian Democrats. Csaba Molnár, the deputy chairman of DK, announced that his party can’t accept any “disguised tightening of the abortion law.” MSZP “stands up against the limitation of women’s rights.”
On the other side, the pro-life groups organized a demonstration. Even according to MTI it was a tiny one of “about two dozen men and women,” including some politicians. Zsolt Semjén, chairman of the Christian Democratic party and deputy prime minister, demonstrated alongside Előd Novák and his wife Dóra Dúró, important leaders in Jobbik. In fact, Novák is rumored to be behind the notorious Nazi Internet publication, kuruc.info.
While the Christian Democrats argue about the abortion pill, more and more women are already going to Vienna to receive treatment there. In Austria 50-70% of all women seeking abortion opt for the pill. The Austrian gynecologist who was interviewed by Magyar Rádió talked about the growing number of women visiting his hospital. And this is exactly what Csaba Molnár (DK) focused on today. The Orbán government’s policies hurt the poor. Any tightening of abortion options hurts those who cannot get into the car, drive to Vienna, and pay 500 euros for the procedure. If Medabon is not available in Hungary, people in the higher income brackets will be able to use the less dangerous and more comfortable method of terminating pregnancy. The rest will be treated surgically.
I’m curious what the last word on this will be. If I had to guess, the “compromise” will be that the procedure will not be covered by national health insurance. That would save money and favor the well-to-do. It would be a typical Fidesz solution.