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Hungary’s government has tightened its abortion rules, which will make the process of pursuing a termination more bureaucratic for pregnant women.

From Thursday onwards, pregnant women will have to listen to the fetus’s heartbeat before having an abortion.

Doctors will have to submit a report confirming that this has been done.

Hungary’s nationalist government recently blamed increased rates of women in higher education for lower birth rates and a shrinking economy.

In a decree issued on Monday, Hungary’s interior ministry urges gynaecologists, obstetricians, and other pre-natal healthcare providers to present pregnant women with a fetus’s vital functions in a “clearly identifiable way” from 15 September onwards.

According to medical practice, the sign of a fetus’s vital functions can be a heartbeat. Far-right politician Dora Duro welcomed the decree, calling it a step towards “protecting all fetuses from conception”.

Amnesty International Hungary said the amended decree would make it “harder to access legal and safe abortion”.

Abortion has been legal in Hungary since 1953. The charity’s spokesman, Aron Demeter, told AFP the announcement was “definitely a worrying step back, a bad sign”.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long sought to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate and his right-wing government prides itself in standing for traditional family values.

In 2019, Mr Orban announced that women with four children would be exempt from paying income tax for life.

Hungary has faced criticism for its gender inequality for some time. After a visit in 2019, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic accused the country of backsliding in gender equality and women’s rights.

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