5th of October
Internationally recognized home birth expert Dr. Agnes Geréb was dramatically taken into police custody in the evening of Tuesday, 5 October just minutes after attending to a pregnant woman who had unexpectedly gone into labor at her homebirth centre in Budapest. The mother had to be urgently transferred by ambulance to hospital with her baby boy when he displayed serious breathing difficulties immediately after birth. The police arrested Dr. Gereb and held her for 72 hours with access only to her lawyer. After the 72 hours in detention, she was taken before a closed criminal court and charged with ”reckless endangerment committed in the line of duty” and remanded in custody without bail for a further 30 days. It is quite common in Hungary to spend more than a year in prison, awaiting trial. On the 8th November 2010, Court Authorities ruled that the internationally recognized Hungarian midwife Dr. Agnes Gereb, should remain imprisoned for a further 60 days. They referred to the same two conditions for her continued imprisonment as cited when she was originally imprisoned 30 days ago on the 8th of October. The two conditions are: the risk that she will repeat “the crime” again and, the risk that she will destroy evidence and/or attempt to influence potential case witnesses.
Homebirth in Hungary
Dr. Geréb is the charismatic leader of the home birth movement in Hungary. Over the past 22 years, 3,500 women in Hungary intentionally chose home birth, to give birth outside a medical institution, with assistance from Dr. Geréb or midwives working with her or alongside her. To date, the issue of home birth has remained unresolved in Hungary. To this very day, the Hungarian authorities believe that participation in home birth is an act of crime: in every instance when midwives, in the course of a home birth, call the ambulance, criminal proceedings are instituted against the midwives who notified the emergency ambulance service. Besides Dr. Geréb, another four midwives are currently under criminal investigation. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) is providing legal representation for these midwives in these specific criminal law cases.
The Current Situation
Following a few important and influential events in December, the day after her birthday, Dr. Gereb was placed under house arrest from the 22nd of December. However, she is still not free and the decision upon her case that involves 4 other midwives as well, is to be expected in the spring of 2011. The case of the 5th of October, 2010 is still in the preinvestigation period. December, 2010 an EU court decision in Strassbourg stated women’s right for the freedom of choice in the birth place. On the 21st of December an exhibit entitled the True Nature of Birth was opened in the Building of the Offices to the Hungarian Parliament. About 800 people attended the birthday singing in front of the Prison building where Dr Gereb was held.
Medical and Legal Background in Hungary
This specific situation of imprisonment was not anticipated, albeit attacks against her have intensified over the past few years. Dr. Ágnes Geréb has been harassed before, on and off, for over two decades. In the 1970s, for instance she defied hospital protocol and snuck fathers into the hospital delivery room where she worked. She was severely reprimanded at the time, a time when fathers attending births with their wives was unheard of in Hungary and regarded as unthinkable. Today fathers in delivery rooms are the norm. Dr. Geréb is the obstetrician who has revealed to many how, at hospital maternity units in Hungary, the medicalized physician and intervention-centric birthing model inherited from the past prevails, despite the fact that pregnancy is not by nature an illness. that it is not an inevitability to give birth or to be born in an institution designed to treat disease. More importantly still, it is not inevitable that male obstetricians attend births. For a long time now the home birth issue has not actually been about where a birth takes place, but, rather, how birth is given, how one is born. In other words, it is about mentality. For several centuries now obstetricians the world over have been waging an ongoing fight against maternity nurses and midwives over the birthing turf. Obviously, involved in this fight are professional prestige, power, financial perks., Currently in Hungary, the fight is least concerned about the wellbeing of women giving birth and their fetuses.Midwives and the Medical ProfessionThe sad fact is that the professional debate that could have launched the reform of obstetrics in Hungary has not materialized over the past two decades. Further, Hungary has failed to implement European Union Directive 2005/36/EC for nurses and midwives the goal of which is to guarantee maternity nurses’ independent work status during the period of pregnancy, when women give birth and during childbed. The absence of professional debate, the failure to pass obstetrics reform, and the failure to put in place a legislative regulatory framework governing home births have together resulted in the criminalization of home births. This means that whenever complications arising in the context of home births are investigated, it is conducted exclusively in the framework of a criminal procedure. Legal practice reveals that the Hungarian authorities apply a double standard here: when complications arise in a hospital setting it is inconceivable for the physician concerned to be led away in chains by the police. It is likewise inconceivable that a criminal suit be filed instead of a professional investigation. Further, in criminal suits instituted against midwives, judges receive expert testimony exclusively from obstetricians-gynecologists who work in hospital settings, the majority of whom condemn home births and regard them dangerous. By criminalizing the work of health professionals who attend home births, the Hungarian state and authorities effectively renders home births impossible. This constitutes a grave violation of Hungarian women’s constitutionally declared right to chose where, how and with whom they wish to bring their child into the world. The arraignment of Dr. Ágnes Geréb thus occurred in this criminalized environment.The Draft Legislation on HomebirthThe same day of the exhibit on the True Nature of Birth, the birthday singing for Dr. Gereb the Hungarian government introduced their draft legislation on homebirth. According to the the legislation, coming into effect on the 1st of April, the circumstances of any homebirth are strictly defined and conveys ideas more about a safe and regulated birth environment than ideas about undisturbed, natural birth. Furthermore, at the moment it seems that Hungarian midwives attending homebirths up to this day will face difficulties in acquiring the official licence needed for their practice. The requirements listed in the legislation can be met by ob-gynes working in hospitals, however, they are causing difficulties for midwives working independently at home births.