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Gynecologists stress need to revise criminal abortion law
  • By Constance Williams
  • Published 2017.11.28 17:14
  • Updated 2017.11.28 17:14
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As more than 230,000 citizens signed an online petition to repeal the antiabortion law, Cheong Wa Dae said it would conduct a fact-finding survey about induced abortion next year, triggering even louder outcries for legal revision.

Regarding the online petition “to abolish the criminal status of abortion and allow the use of abortion pills,” the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology대한산부인과의사회 (KSOG) has stressed that women’s right to self-determination of their body and health should be protected as well as the fetus’ right to life.

“Efforts should begin to amend the law reasonably and realistically as recommended by obstetricians, who are medical professionals protecting maternal health,” it said.

In order to protect fetuses’ right of life and to revise the current maternity health law and criminal law that punish both abortion women and medical practitioners at the same time, it is necessary to make efforts to improve the system to raise sharply the birth control practice rate, which now remains at 20 percent, it added.

The Lee Myung-bak이명박 administration stepped up its crackdown on abortion as a countermeasure against the country’s declining birthrate. Current abortion laws subject women who use drugs, surgery or any other methods to induce abortions to a criminal punishment of a year in jail or a 2 million won ($1,796) fine.

A Cheong Wa Dae official broadcasting live on their official facebook page on the discussion of abortion

Doctors have also been banned from announcing the baby’s gender before 32 weeks of birth, a measure put in place to counter the social phenomenon of aborting girl babies. Physicians found performing abortions are liable to up to two years in prison.

In contrast to Korea, most developed countries can set a time limit for abortion without condition or allow “socioeconomic reasons” for legal abortion. They respect the self-determination of the pregnancy of a woman who goes through pregnancy and childbirth and who has to bring up the baby for years after giving birth.

The United States allows up to 23 weeks, and the United Kingdom allows up to 24 weeks, and even after that week, abortion is permitted to protect the health and life of pregnant women. France allows for less than 12 weeks in full, and up to six months if the health of pregnant women is threatened.

In Germany, where the abortion is punishable in principle, it is permitted to do so if the requirements are met after 12 weeks, if medical legitimacy after 12 weeks is allowed, and if there are counseling and consent of the pregnant woman within 22 weeks, it can be exempted. Japan's Maternal Health Law, which is most similar to Korea's Maternal and Child Health Law, allows socioeconomic reasons as justifying abortion.

Professor Cho Byeong-gu조병구, a member of the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has argued that legitimate reasons for abortion are too limited here.

Abortion is only allowed in cases of genetic mental or physical disorder, infectious disease, rape, sex abuse or health concerns of either the mother or the baby. Socioeconomic reasons, the most common cause of illegal abortions, are not included in legitimate reasons.

A large percentage of illegal abortions are subject to socioeconomic reasons because it’s difficult to raise a baby in cases of teenage pregnancy and single mothers. If a pregnant woman is unmarried and does not acquire the help of a family member, even highly educated women are constrained by economic activities during pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare, especially in a situation where their socioeconomic status is sharply lower than before the pregnancy and childbirth.

According to a 2005 survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare보건복지부, 84.6 percent of respondents answered that they would abort even if punished, while 70 percent of male respondents supported abortion for unwanted pregnancies. This suggests that the gap between the reality surrounding abortion and law enforcement is enormous, the society said.

However, they will be a problem to consider if it’s helpful for women who are forced to give birth and give up the baby because she has no social and economic preparation to raise the child, or to a woman who has difficulties giving birth.

The exclusion of socioeconomic reasons in abortion, which is permitted by the Maternal and Child Health Law, is likely to be a violation of the Constitution Court, such as hindering the right to equal rights of the people and the pursuit of happiness for women.

The society has also warned against the dangerous possibility of introducing abortion induction drugs such as Mifegyne (ingredient: mifepristone) included in this petition because there are risks of abuse and severe side effects.

In countries where induced abortion is permitted, it is prescribed only when available after diagnosis by an obstetrician. There may be vomiting, dizziness, severe abdominal pain and bleeding, and aftereffects due to incomplete abortion. In particular, women taking more than 10 weeks of pregnancy may have a massive bleeding requiring transfusion, and adverse effects on subsequent pregnancies due to side effects or aftereffects, it noted.

"The health authorities need to revise the maternal, fetal and criminal laws that treat women and obstetricians as potential criminals and add socioeconomic reason clause to the maternity health law,” Professor Cho.

In addition to efforts to dramatically increase the practice rate of contraception too low, even if non-married women give birth to the child in good health, prevention of abortion and reduction of low fertility can also have a positive effect, he added.


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