A letter to the President

I’ve never been one for protesting, for signing petitions, for writing letters of complaint. Yes, I can bitch and moan with the best of them, but I have this irrational fear of having my name on a list of watchables. I say irrational, because in all likelihood it’s due to nothing more than an overindulgence in Cold War books and movies and a rather fertile imagination. I have no problem writing about stuff that bothers me, or speaking up about things I think unfair, but in my mind, large crowds are at the mercy of the state police and petitions are a matter of public record. Both bring out the heebie jeebies in me. Irrational, I know.

Seven years ago, back in 2010, I first wrote about Dr Ágnes Geréb. Dr Geréb had been

…recently arrested and [was] facing charges for reckless endangerment committed during the line of duty, […] An experienced doctor and midwife, she has attended more than 2000 home births (i.e. not in a hospital). […] Dr Geréb had a patient whom she had advised not to choose home birth as the patient had some sort of blood clotting disorder. During a scheduled prenatal appointment, the patient suddenly went into labour and the baby was delivered – apparently there was no time to get her to the hospital. When born, the baby had breathing difficulties. Ambulance staff called to the scene began resuscitation and took the baby to hospital. Dr Geréb was subsequently questioned, arrested, and taken into custody.

Two years later, in 2012, I wrote again. This time, adding my voice to the international call for clemency for Dr Geréb.

On February 10th, 2012, the Budapest Appeal Court announced the verdict in the case of Dr. Ágnés Geréb (an OB/Gyn as well as a midwife) and four other Hungarian midwives. The terms of Ágnes Geréb’s sentence of two-year imprisonment were tightened, a ban on practising doubled to ten years.

The ruling was put on hold while the clemency petition ran its course. In 2015, I shared an appeal for funds from her Campaign. With an update.

Arrested and imprisoned without trial five years ago for practising midwifery, Dr Geréb was later released to house arrest in December 2010 where she remained until February last year. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house for years. I go stir-crazy if I can’t leave for three days! In 2014, the conditions of her house arrest were relaxed a little so while she can travel in and around Budapest, she can’t venture much further afield. A prison as beautiful as Budapest is still a prison if you can’t leave.

The appeal process continued and hope that Dr Geréb would soon be free of all this was mounting. And then came the news this week. Yesterday, 9 January, a Budapest court ruled that an original lower court verdict of February 2012 against Dr Geréb would stand: 2 years in prison and a 10-year suspension from doing what she does best – helping mothers in their choice to give birth at home. No more appeals are possible. The sentence will come into effect within weeks. In the coming days, Dr Geréb will have to decide whether to go down the clemency route again – for a second time – or go to jail. These are her only options. Enough, already, I say.

Freedom for Birth and other mothers’ rights activists are in shock today, as the news spreads throughout the global community of Dr Geréb’s supporters. Calls have been made to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and write to President János Áder, asking him to step up to the plate as the head of a European State, and put an end to this.

I’m not a mother. I have no clue what it’s like to have kids.  But I’m a great fan of choice. Last time, more than 6000 people from all over the world  signed a petition for clemency, recalling that it is the ability to choose that makes us human. This time, even more signatures are needed. More voices need to be heard. I’ve penned my letter to the President voicing my outrage and asking him to do his bit to end this debacle. I’ve received notification from his office that it is being processed. I’ll live with my irrational fear that I’m now on a watchlist as it’s an infinitesimal price to pay to add my voice to the outrage.

Ágnes Geréb does not belong in jail. She should be out assisting those women who have chosen to give birth at home. She should be out facilitating a Hungarian woman’s right to choose.

 

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