Protesters celebrate after listening to a judgment during a rally demanding the abolition of abortion law outside of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 11, 2019. South Korea's Constitutional Court has ruled that the country's decades-long ban on abortions is incompatible with the constitution, setting up a likely easing of restrictions. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
After 66 years, abortion was once again decriminalized in South Korea. In its ruling, the country’s Constitutional Court called the anti-abortion law “an unconstitutional restriction that violates a pregnant woman’s right to choose.” The Parliament is given until the end of 2020 to revise the law.
Under South Korea’s criminal code, women who violate the law can spend up to a year in prison or pay a fine of up to two million won (approx P90,100). Meanwhile, doctor or medical practitioners who aid an abortion face up to two years in prison.
“The ruling marks an important stride in strengthening gender equality and women’s right to make choices for themselves,” People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said of the historic ruling.
In a government-financed survey last year, it was shown that three-quarters of surveyed South Korean women of childbearing age were against the law. In fact, abortion remained widespread in the country despite the ban. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, in 2017 alone, about 49,700 abortions took place, and nearly 94 percent of them were done illegally (exceptions were granted to cases involving rape, incest, and genetic disability). Though the law wasn’t enforced properly, the government’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family stressed that it “forced abortions underground, exposing women to medical accidents.”
While many celebrate this as a “progressive” move, it is important to note what IG user @unapologeticallynotintoyou pointed out: That abortion was only criminalized in 1953, “when the Korean War ‘ended.’” According to the user, one can thus conclude that “criminalization of abortion happened BECAUSE of Western imperialism in Korea. It happened BECAUSE of America’s democratization’ and ‘liberation’ of Korea.” Stressing, “To celebrate it as a step forward, as a step towards more ‘equal’ and ‘advanced’ Western countries is insulting and entirely inaccurate. The legalization of abortion is a step towards decolonizing Korea, not a step towards western democracy.”
The New York Times meanwhile wrote that the South Korean government’s attitude on their population affected the policy. “In the 1970s and 1980s, as the government struggled to curtail population growth, it told families that “two children are one too many” and looked the other way as abortions became widespread. In more recent years, however, the country has tried to reverse its falling birthrate, which is one of the lowest in the world, with an average of less than one child per woman.” Explaining further, “The government’s attitude toward abortion has also shifted, with officials often calling it unpatriotic and threatening to crack down on the procedure.”
In February, a coalition of pro-abortion women’s groups said in a statement, “When there were too many people, they told us ‘not to produce babies’ in the name of family planning, and when they thought there were not enough people, they then told us ‘to produce babies’ or face punishment.” Adding, “We can no longer put up with this deceitful frame.”
We are one with these groups in celebrating the victory. But also, we have to say: Please, please stop politicizing women’s bodies. We are fed up with it.