By Krisztina Than
KAPOSVAR, Hungary (Reuters) - The Pongracz family, a couple who both serve as Lutheran pastors in western Hungary, consider it God's blessing that they had their first baby after undergoing in-vitro fertilization in 2015.
Since their son Lazar was born, they also had twins - a boy and a girl - from a second IVF pregnancy, so their red-brick home attached to their church in a leafy district of Kaposvar is now filled with babies' laughter.
They assist young couples with fertility problems by encouraging them to seek doctors' help if that's the only way.
"It was such an intense period for us, from the hormone treatment to the implantation of the embryos ... until it turned out that it was successful, that this gave us such a deep relationship with God that we never thought could be possible," said the mother, Boglarka Gyori.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made families a priority and introduced tax breaks and cheap loans to persuade more Hungarians to marry and have children as Hungary's population is declining rapidly.
It is an uphill struggle, with a productivity rate of 1.49, when 2.1 is needed to reverse the trend.
In December the government bought out six privately-owned fertility clinics. Drugs used in fertility treatments will be free of charge and waiting lists abolished, making state-financed IVF accessible to many more couples.
Some observers question why state ownership was needed and why the government did not just boost funding instead.
They say the move fits with Orban's efforts to centralise control over certain sectors and it could also help him lock in more of the conservative vote.
"A human being cannot be a consumer item," family affairs state secretary Katalin Novak said, adding that the aim was to make treatments transparent and accessible to all.
When it turned out that she had a blockage in her fallopian tubes, making natural pregnancy almost impossible, Boglarka and her husband Mate wasted little time.
She was 27 and Mate was 30, and they spent all their savings on IVF at a clinic to avoid having to wait eight months for state-financed care. The second time they went for state-financed IVF, but still had to pay for medicines.
"There were the parents, or rather the would-be parents, who were waiting and hoping," said Mate. "With respect to our faith, the IVF programme was not a question for us. We have to take the opportunity that God had given us."
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mike Collett-White)