Defending Midwifery from Criminal Prosecution

The Situation: Many Eastern European countries have strict regulations on midwifery and homebirths. In Hungary the government often views home birthing as criminal. In fact, when a midwife calls for emergency services during a home delivery, the government initiates criminal proceedings. In 2010, the government detained Agnes Geréb, a midwife and well-known leader of the international home birth movement, and charged her with negligent malpractice after she called an ambulance for a patient.

The Rapid Response: Previous Urgent Action Fund grantee Szuleteshaz Kozhasznu Egyesulet/Birth House Association (SKE) planned a national campaign to amend the home delivery legislation and absolve all midwives currently charged under the law. The campaign launched on the one-year anniversary of Agnes’ detainment. SKE requested funds from Urgent Action Fund to attend the 11th International Meeting on Women and Health in Brussels to devise campaign strategies, gain crucial international support, and learn from women’s groups who face similar challenges.

The Impact: SKE’s representative spoke with delegates at the International Meeting in Brussels who had extensive experience in campaigns, met prominent women’s human rights defenders working in the area of reproductive rights and networked with other groups in the region challenging midwifery regulations. The connections helped SKE and other women’s human rights activists take action in their campaigns and also shined an international light on Agnes’ situation. The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition reported in 2012: “We recently presented the Coalition letter to President Áder’s Office for his attention. In our dialogue with his Office we know that President Áder is aware of and concerned about the level of international support that has been generated around Dr. Geréb and we hope this background of strong international support will encourage him to find a just and fair solution for Dr. Geréb. We shall see in a short time whether the President delivers on this aim and in the meantime Dr. Geréb remains under continuing severe house arrest conditions. Her other midwifery colleague who was also found guilty in court was “fined,” so she has no prison sentence to contend with.”