Abolition of Laws Banning Abortion in South Korea

Chaehyun Lee, Backpage Editor

South Korea is one of the countries that ban every kind of abortion in principle; they limit the practice of abortion through abortion law. Then what exactly the abortion law?

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea bans artificial abortion through criminal law and the Mother and Child Health Act except for in specific circumstances: when the pregnant woman herself is disabled or her husband is, when pregnancy resulted from rape or sexual violence, when pregnancy resulted from an incestual relationship, and when the pregnancy severely harms or has the potential to harm the pregnant woman’s health. 

South Korea’s legal punishment for abortion varies from amercement to penal servitude, depending on the methods of abortion. The purpose of abortion law is to protect the fetus. Abortion law was declared unconstitutional in 2019, and now, in 2020, legislative notice was announced to completely allow abortion until 14 weeks of pregnancy. 

Now recognizing the problem of the abortion ban, voices to legalize abortion are increasing and expanding throughout Korean society. Such social attempts could be found in various fields. 

On November 5, the Justice Party proposed a new penal code that removes South Korea’s abortion law. They also proposed amendments to the Mother and Child Health Act that change its name to the Rights of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Childrearing Guarantee Act, thereby protecting life and health in the whole process of parenting and contributing to the improvement of the quality of life.In other words, the Justice Party has switched the main focus of the Act from “promoting the birth and healthy child-rearing” to “the guarantee of basic human rights.” 

What is more, the amendment to the Labor Standards Act ensures parental leave even if the pregnancy was terminated due to abortion or stillbirth. The petition that calls on the government to abolish the abortion law has recruited more than 100,000 signatories. It presses the legislation to execute the following: first, remove the abortion law and protect the reproductive rights of women; and second, ensure the safety and economic feasibility of artificial abortion service.

Jin Bang, a student in MHS also agrees with the idea of abolishing these restrictive laws banning abortion. 

“Women’s own rights to gain control over their body and make decisions should not be infringed by the government. Also, a lot of the opposition against abortion comes from Christian values, which should be respected, but shouldn’t be a reason to pass legislation that violates reproductive rights,” Bang said. 

Criminaliaing abortion has a bad influence on women. First, criminalizing or restricting abortion prevents doctors from providing basic care, doing their job properly, and ensuring the best care options for their patients. Criminalization of abortion also results in a “chilling effect,” whereby medical professionals may not understand the bounds of the law or may apply the restrictions in a narrower way than required by the law. This may be because of a number of reasons: personal beliefs, stigma about abortion, negative stereotypes about women and girls, or the fear of criminal liability. This criminalization also deters women and girls from seeking post-abortion care for complications due to unsafe abortion or other pregnancy-related complications. 

Second, access to safe abortion is a matter of human rights. Forcing someone to carry on an unwanted pregnancy or forcing them to seek out an unsafe abortion is a violation of their human rights, including the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. In many circumstances, those who have no choice but to resort to unsafe abortions also risk prosecution and punishment, including imprisonment, and can face cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and discrimination in, and exclusion from, vital post-abortion health care. Access to abortion is therefore fundamentally linked to protecting and upholding the human rights of women, girls and others who can become pregnant and thus for achieving social and gender justice.

While these attempts to advance are initiated, some obstacles hinder the protection of female rights.

Rising complaints are that the Korean government has not properly conducted the process of gathering a collective opinion from women, who are affected by the legislation. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has also proposed an amendment to the Gender Equality Advisory Committee after the Office of the State Coordination rejected the request for the execution of female interviews. Taking necessary steps and initiating wide, public discussion about women and their reproductive rights will definitely secure improvements in future legislation.