Home birth in Hungary is legal. Only, you can’t have one. Yet.*
Women in Hungary have the right to choose their place of birth. Since 2011, we even have brand spanking new regulations that are supposed to govern the work of those attending home births, and lay out the rules for who can receive a license to do so.
Only problem is, not a single person has actually received a license since April 2011, when the regulations came into effect.
How did home birth in Hungary exist before the regulations?
In the past, home birth midwives in Hungary were hiding in the legal gap of no regulations to be able to attend home births. The authorities did not look kindly upon this, and home birth midwives were prosecuted and home birth parents were ostracized and generally made to feel crappy in those instances when a hospital transfer became necessary. It took some real determination on the part of the midwives to keep providing this kind of service in face of charges pressed and harrassment from the police and the authorities, and determination on the part of the parents, knowing that in the event of a hospital transfer, they could expect unreasonable rudeness from hospital staff.
I heard about this home birth midwife in Hungary who was arrested. What happened to her?
The midwife you heard of was Dr. Ágnes Geréb, an obstetrician of some 17 years experience who is the leader and “poster child” for the home birth movement in Hungary. She was arrested in 2010 after police were called to a birth at her birth center where the woman experienced heavy bleeding after the birth. The midwives in attendance called an ambulance, and along with the ambulance, the police also arrived. The mother was transported to a hospital and released in good condition shortly thereafter. But Dr. Geréb was never released. She first spent time in jail, then following an international outcry due to the inhumane treatment she received in jail, she was released into house arrest and has been there since. You can find out more detailed information about her at www.freegereb.org
What is going on with Dr. Ágnes Geréb’s case?
The judge sentenced her to two years in jail in 2011. Her case was appealed and is coming up for an appeals hearing on February 3rd, 2012. However, she is still under house arrest, not allowed to leave the place where she is living (which is a friend’s apartment, since her own home was deemed unsuitable). The police come and check up on her 4 times a day to make sure she is in the apartment. She is not allowed to leave this apartment even to go for a walk. She has been living like this for over a year.
What about the new regulations? Why can’t anyone get a license?
Three midwives have made it their mission to try to meet all the criteria set forth in the new regulations and get their license. They have stopped attending births and have devoted themselves full time to pursuing licensure. They’ve been working on it since April 2011 and still do not have their license. Mostly, they report bureaucratic stalling and being made to jump through hoops (“submit this, no, it’s not right, submit it again, wait, you’re missing some papers, oh, we sent your case on to the ministry ages ago, what do you mean it was never received?”), as well as the impracticality of the new regulations, which apparently need to be modified as they go along because some of the conditions are impossible to meet.
To be crystal clear, these are women who have college degrees in midwifery and years of experience in both hospital and home settings.
They are also struggling to raise the money to fulfill some of the requirements set forth in the regulations, like having a CTG machine (not just a doppler), and buying liability insurance. This all sounds reasonable enough, but a CTG machine is HUF 450 000 (EUR 1500) for midwives who are currently out of work, is a tall order. Even when they were working, home birth midwives in Hungary charge between HUF 50 000 (EUR 170) to HUF 140 000 (EUR 450) for the entirety of prenatal, intrapartum and postpartum care. Can you imagine how many births it would take for a home birth midwife in Hungary to raise enough money just to cover the cost of the CTG machine? And these women have been out of work for over a year.
And then there is the cost of the liability insurance. Since this is a novelty for Hungarian insurance providers, the best quote they were able to receive for liability insurance was HUF 380 000 (EUR 1300) per year per person, payable in one lump sum. In short, these three midwives have had to go into debt in an effort to get their license, with still no prospect of being able to work legally in sight.
So are there no home births in Hungary right now?
There are more than 3 home birth midwives in Hungary. And yes, some of them are still attending births, at great risk to themselves. But many of them have been frightened away by what happened to Dr. Geréb and have stopped attending home births.
So what happens if I want to have a home birth in Hungary today?
You can find a midwife who’ll be putting her freedom on the line in order to attend your birth. Or you can hope that by the time your due date rolls around, one of the 3 midwives struggling to get licensed will be legal. Or you can leave the country to have your baby in a home birth.
If you want to make home birth in Hungary legal and feasible any time in the near future,
Send these women money!
Dr. Ágnes Geréb needs money for her legal team. You can find donation information at www.freegereb.org.
The team of three midwives struggling for licensure need money to pay off their CTG machine and to be able to afford their liability insurance. Every penny helps – these women have been voluntarily out of work for a year! You can donate money by clicking the donate button below.