The government is doubling its resources for IVF treatment (artificial insemination) to help families who want a child but are struggling to conceive, announced Hungarian Minister of State for Family, Youth and International Affairs Katalin Novák yesterday.
In a video statement, the minister reassured people that despite difficulties the Hungarian healthcare system is facing due to the COVID-19 crisis, the treatment will continue to be state-subsidized. Moreover, the government will further expand its financial support for the project.
Since the start of the government funded project in 2017, tens of thousands of Hungarian couples have benefited from IVF. Many young couples could not afford the treatment due to high financial costs, since a single treatment in a private clinic could cost as much as €3,000. The average salary in Hungary currently stands at €1,100 per month, yet this is significantly lower outside the capital of Budapest. The Hungarian government is currently funding the first five treatments under general health insurance plans.
This is part of the government’s family support program, which was designed to tackle long-term negative demographic trends. The population of Hungary has shrunk from over 10 million to just over 9.5 million in the past two decades, largely due to shrinking sizes of nuclear families, although the effects of emigration from the country have also been felt. This is a trend experienced throughout the European Union and is seen globally in countries with developed economies.
Some Western European policymakers have used the phenomenon to explain the need for large-scale immigration from third-world countries in which demographic trends are positive, or from ones that are struggling with population explosion. On the contrary, the government of Viktor Orbán had outlined a different vision for handling the decline of native populations, drafting policies that are designed to help young couples to raise children not only from an economic point of view, but through a large-scale social reform that improves on services available for those who raise children.
In Hungary, those raising children receive significant tax-breaks. Working professionals who have three or more children are exempt from taxation up to a certain annual quota. Significant state-subsidized loans and grants have been made available for those who need to buy larger family cars, or those who want to scale up their properties to accommodate a larger family. From January 2021, the Hungarian government will pay 50 percent of the price of home improvements for families with children.
Couples in Western nations are increasingly plagued with infertility issues, including couples struggling with conceiving as they begin their families at more advanced ages. Other factors are contributing to the crisis, including a 50 percent decline in sperm rates over the last few decades. As a result, the Hungarian government is attempting to help provide aid to those couples suffering from reduced fertility or infertility issues.
The Orbán government has often been criticized from home and abroad for its family-centered policies, and its subsidies for IVF treatment have also been scrutinized by the opposition as well as some church leaders.
The president of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference András Veres has called the IVF program a ‘sin’ because some ovums may be destroyed during the artificial insemination process. Opposition media have also criticized the government for its state subsidies for the program as it has put some private-sector IVF clinics out of business.
In 2018, the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality had condemned the Hungarian government for its family-centered policies and for alleged violations of gender equality in the country in general, pointing out, for instance, that only 10 percent of Hungarian MPs are women, which is the lowest ratio from all EU countries, although it is worth noting that from the European Parliament’s committee features only six males out of its 65 current members, which only makes up 9 percent.
According to the committee, the government’s rhetoric and symbolism reduces women solely to a mother’s role and only gives them respect in this context. It also calls for respecting women’s reproductive right, which equates with offering more abortion options. On this basis, the committee has recommended Article 7 rule-of-law violation proceedings against Hungary.