The country’s constitutional court is putting an end to its abortion ban, which has been in force for more than 66 years.
A group of civic activists calling for the repeal of the current anti-abortion law react to the decision to lift the ban in front of the constitutional court in Seoul. source: Yonhap/EPA
April 11 was a remarkable day for women in South Korea – as their Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s 66-year abortion ban must be lifted by end of 2020, in a major win for pro-choice advocates.
Lawmakers now have until December 31, 2020 to revise the law. Until then, termination of pregnancy after 20-weeks will remain illegal.
“The abortion ban limits women’s rights to pursue their own destinies, and violates their rights to health by limiting their access to safe and timely procedures,” the court said in a statement.
South Korea is one of the few developed countries to criminalize abortion.
Despite the harrowing health conditions and dangerous aftermath of illegal abortions, up to half a million women and girls have illegal abortions in the country each year, according to research by Pai Chai University.
The potential physical and mental risks aside, illegal abortions could also lead up to a year in prison and can be fined up to two million won (US$1,780), while doctors or healthcare workers who helped terminate a pregnancy could be jailed for up to two years.
Protesters hold placards reading 'Abolish punishment for abortion' as they protest South Korean abortion laws in Gwanghwamun plaza in Seoul on July 7, 2018. Source: AFP / Getting Images
The only exceptions are in cases of rape, incest, specific diseases or genetic disorders, or if a woman’s or girl’s health is endangered by the pregnancy. Even in these limited instances, a woman must have the consent of her spouse to get an abortion.
However, authorities reportedly tolerated illegal terminations for decades after the ban was introduced, but began cracking down on terminations due to the country’s plunging birthrate.
Since the law’s enforcement starting from 1953, the criminalization of abortion has been violating women’s and girl’s rights and putting their lives at risk.
In fact, in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8 to 11 percent of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 each year.
This law has made a basic right so inaccessible in one of Asia’s most developed and fastest-growing countries.
But they have been fighting back.
Protesters voicing out in the 2017 protest. Source: Getty China
In 2017, more than 235,000 people signed a petition to legalize abortion. In response, the government promised better sex education, more support for single mothers, and to research the issue.
However, the activists have been facing challenges from their counterparts, who claim that they want abortion to remain illegal because they say it forces women to think deeply about the decision.
On April 6, about 1,000 anti-abortion protesters took to the streets of Seoul for a "March for Life," modeled on the US campaign of the same name. They bore placards with slogans such as "abortion is murder" and "both women and fetuses must be protected."
While the success of the overturning of the abortion ban marks a new chapter in South Korea’s women’s rights, the country still has a long way to go.
South Korea has long lagged behind in gender equality.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2018 released by the World Economy Forum (WEF), Tuesday, Korea ranked 115 among 149 countries on gender equality. This is an improvement of just three places compared to last year.
The topic of abortion has been an increasingly heated topic in light of the growing voice of female empowerment. While abortion has been legalized in most developed countries worldwide, it remains illegal, stigmatized and frowned-upon and many places around the globe.
These are the countries where it's still illegal to get an abortion
Source: World Population Review