AUSTRIA – An interview with Dr Christian Fiala: “It is an illusion that two conversations can persuade a woman to have an unwanted baby”

photo 2020: reinhard mayr

Telex Hungary, by Barbara Vincze, 5 April 2024

Translated from Hungarian by

There is a lot of talk in the public discourse about the stigmatisation of women who have had abortions and why governments and churches in general oppose abortion; however, much less is heard about the arguments on the other side. For example, why a gynaecologist thinks abortion should be liberalised.

Hungarian doctors are bound by strict rules on what they can say in the press, so we asked an Austrian pro-abortion doctor, Dr Christian Fiala, after his presentation at the Patent Association’s latest research conference in Budapest. Dr Fiala has been providing abortions for many years….

Our discussion touched on self-managed abortion in a democracy, with the abortion pill, governments that patronise women, the Hungarian heartbeat law…. and what the opening hours of kindergartens have to do with birth rates.

He often says, and in his lecture he made it clear, that “every abortion can save a woman’s life”. I asked him: What do you mean? Illegal abortions, the much criticised practice in… Poland, or something else entirely?” He replied:

“It depends on the situation. Where, for example, abortion is banned and a woman chooses to have an illegal abortion because of that, she may well die. If abortion were legal in her country, this would not happen. But I am also saying this in a somewhat metaphorical sense: the majority of women want to have a family with a planned number of children and have a clear idea of how they want their family to be. A ‘family’ usually means as many children as the woman (and her partner) think they can raise responsibly. But when an unplanned child is born, the woman cannot have the family life as she had planned it.”

“For example, we recently had an 18-year-old woman come to us who had an abortion because she already had two children; and she said she didn’t want a third at that age. We also see more than one woman aged 30-35 who has had one child and immediately after having her first child she gets pregnant again and feels an incredible burden. She thinks she can’t care for either of the two children as well as she would like. This is when we are figuratively saving them and their family life.”

Dr Fiala has been involved in abortions for over 30 years, practising and lecturing. In August 2023, he told Euronews that Hungarian legislation on abortion is not up to date. What would he change?

“Every society should ask itself what it wants to do with women who get pregnant against their will. It is also worth asking the women concerned. The most important thing in a society, in my view, is that its citizens are able to live their lives as they wish…. The most sensible thing for a state to do is to support its citizens in this; on the one hand, by targeted support for planned and wanted children, such as kindergartens, and on the other hand, by helping to prevent women from becoming pregnant against their will….”

What does the example of Poland, where abortion is banned, show?

It is the worst solution, because it increases the number of illegal abortions, which can end in death. Poland has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, even though abortion is banned. The prospects for couples about to start a family are not good, and the government should be working on this rather than thinking about further restrictions. If the framework conditions for families are good, more children are born; if they are bad, as in Poland, fewer. But back to Hungary: here, abortion can only be performed surgically and only after a lot of time-consuming hassle, which leads to those who can afford it, quickly getting it over with abroad, for a lot of money. Only this money will be missing from their family coffers.

What would you suggest instead?

What Canada did in 1988 should be implemented in Hungary: abortion was removed from the criminal code, as it is not a crime. Besides, health insurance should pay for it instead of women, because it is totally unfair that a woman and a man go to bed together, but the consequences, such as the surgery and the money to pay for the abortion, are so often borne by the woman alone.

As a third measure, the abortion pill should not only be made legal, but it would be good if it could be obtained without a prescription. Doctors would then be out of the process. Many doctors now say that they do not want to perform abortions because they are more or less policed. Many doctors find the whole thing ridiculous: why do I have to be a policeman when that is not the profession I chose? It’s also medically boring.

Is France still… the most liberal country on abortion in Europe?

France and Sweden have the highest birth rates. Both countries are very supportive: in France, nurseries are open early in the morning when women go to work and close late in the afternoon. The opening hours of nurseries are always an important indicator, as they should provide a service that fits in with working parents’ working hours. There are countries, such as Austria and Germany, where it is the other way around: parents’ working hours must be adapted to the opening hours of nurseries. What happens is that parents say after their first child that it is so tiring they don’t want a second or third child.

It is an interesting question why France and Sweden have the highest birth rates, while their abortion laws are very liberal, and abortion is free in both countries. You have been running an abortion clinic in Vienna for years, and you said that 10 to 15 Hungarian women visit you every day, and in your presentation in Budapest you also mentioned that there are days when you meet more Hungarian women than Austrian women. What is your experience, why do Hungarian women prefer to come to you at around five times the abortion rate in this country?

There are several reasons why Hungarian women come to us: those who are still early enough often come for abortion pills. There are those who want to speed up the process and don’t want the weeks-long Hungarian procedure, but there are also those who come to us for an abnormal pregnancy. Those who come from Hungary for a surgical abortion often justify their decision by saying that they are treated more humanely in Vienna and know that everything will be done in time and with good quality. Many come after the Hungarian upper time limit, the 12th week. With all the administration, counselling and so on that women are subjected to in Hungary, time runs out, and for many women it is a real drama and a race against time. It is a torture, a fictitious problem created on the part of the government, which is of no use.

On the so-called ‘heartbeat law’, which will be introduced in autumn 2022, linking abortion to the viewing of fetal vital signs, I consider it to be highly unethical….It is an illusion on the part of the Hungarian government that women who did not want to get pregnant can be persuaded to have an unwanted child after all, in this manner. Ceauşescu tried this [in Romania] and it ended in scandal.

The abortion pill is legal in Austria up to the 9th week, but it has never been legal in Hungary. What are your experiences?

Very good, but as I said, women should have access without a prescription….

Are the abortion pills always the better option?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but at the least they should be an option. It is essential that women have a choice….

[The interview continues but moves on to the subject of euthanasia.]