Getting rid of anti-abortion law gains momentum
By Kang Ji-Hyun
Cheong Wa Dae has provided new momentum to the debate as to whether the nation should abolish or revise the law criminalizing abortion.
Responding to a public petition to legalize abortion, Cheong Wa Dae didn’t take a clear stance on the issue Sunday, but offered ample indications that it doesn’t favor the current law.
“The current law only holds women accountable, excluding men who are also responsible. The abortion discussion should encompass women’s rights to life and health,” said Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.
Under the current law, abortion is allowed only under two conditions _ when the fetus has a genetic defect or when the pregnancy is a result of rape.
Cho cited three examples to make the case against the law.
“What if the father is your ex-boyfriend? What if he is your ex-husband? What if the woman is alone and has no means of earning a living whatsoever? The law as it stands now makes these women criminals if they choose to have an abortion.”
In principle, the thinking of the presidential office should not matter so much because the President doesn’t have the power to make laws. Yet, Cheong Wa Dae’s opinion is critical given that its influence is tremendous in Korea. It may even be able to sway decisions in the supposedly independent judiciary.
“When we needed a serious discussion, the government hasn’t helped. With Cheong Wa Dae’s forward-looking opinion, I think we can finally start the real conversation about abortion taking women’s rights into account,” said Hong Yeon-ji from Womenlink, an NGO based in Seoul.
The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the anti-abortion law.
In a 2012 decision, justices ruled that it was constitutional.
Many think that Cheong Wa Dae’s opinion will influence the decision. Also the court has a new chief justice, Lee Jin-sung, who was picked by liberal President Moon Jae-in. Lee expressed his support for abortion as long as it was performed in early pregnancy. It’s unknown when the justices will deliver a ruling.
Abortion has been illegal in Korea since 1953.
Women who undergo, and doctors who perform the medical procedure are subject to either a one-year prison sentence or a fine of up to 2 million won ($1,850).
Despite the law, many go ahead with the procedure illegally. According to government statistics, among 169,000 abortions that were performed in 2010, only 10,800, or 6 percent, were legal.
Abortion supporters have argued for a long time that the law has failed to reach its goal of discouraging people from having terminations.
A common saying, “Gynecological clinics in Korea run on abortion patients,” also reflects the reality. Anecdotal evidence from medical service providers also shows the anti-abortion law does not stop women from having the procedure.
Among 35 OCED countries, 29 member states give women the right to have an abortion.
Abortion supporters in Korea argue it is time to respect women’s rights, calling for a serious discussion about abortion. They welcomed the dialogue triggered by Cheong Wa Dae and the prospect of the anti-abortion law being abolished.
But, abortion opponents expressed concerns that the move would fast-track the legalization of abortion.
“I am not against public discussion. Life is precious and it has to be protected from its inception. I am worried that the debate will influence people to take life more lightly,” said Kim Hyung-cheol, secretary general of the Korean Christian Bioethics Association.