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Hungarian home birth advocate looses appeal

February 10, 2012
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BUDAPEST, Hungary—A Hungarian obstetrician known for promoting home births lost an appeal Friday against her two-year prison sentence for malpractice.

Budapest's Court of Appeals also banned Dr. Agnes Gereb from working in her profession for the next 10 years, increasing last year's court ruling, which had banned her for five years.

Defense lawyer Andrea Pelle said her client would likely appeal for clemency to President Pal Schmitt.

The court said Gereb must serve at least two-thirds of the sentence before parole, while the original decision allowed parole after one year.

Last year's verdict was already unusual because the judge's sentence was much tougher than the suspended prison term sought by prosecutors.

Gereb's case has become a rallying point for Hungarians seeking to have home births accepted as a regulated method of delivery. About 150 supporters, many with small children in tow, endured freezing temperatures Friday outside the courthouse while awaiting the ruling.

"This is a black day in the history of three Hungarian professions -- obstetricians, prosecutors and judges," said Attila Racz, who described the case against Gereb as a witch hunt. "Agnes Gereb is innocent. She is not a criminal but a hero."

Last year, partly due to the campaign led by Gereb, the government decided to allow home births under rigorous safety conditions. Advocates, however, said the regulations are so strict they make legal home births nearly impossible.

"The court applies a double standard by judging hospital births and home births differently," said a statement from the Justice for Agnes Gereb Movement and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. "With today's ruling, the court maintains the criminalization of home births."

Gereb has spent over a year under house arrest because she is also under investigation by police in other cases of complications from home births. She was already given a three-year work ban in 2007 because of a similar case.

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