S. Korea to maintain abortion laws but allow pregnancy termination up to 14 weeks

Posted on : 2020-10-07 17:41 KST Modified on : 2020-10-07 17:41 KST
Revised law would allow abortions until 24th week for special cases such as sex crimes
Demonstrators call for the decriminalization of abortion in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Sept. 28. (Baek So-ah, staff photographer)
Demonstrators call for the decriminalization of abortion in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Sept. 28. (Baek So-ah, staff photographer)

The South Korean government plans to keep abortion criminalized despite calls from feminists for lifting the ban. Under proposed revisions to the criminal code and the Mother and Child Health Act that will be released on Wednesday for public comment, abortion would be legalized during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Hankyoreh reporters learned on Oct. 6 that the government’s proposed revision to the law would decriminalize abortion in the early phase of pregnancy, until the 14th week. The revision would also allow abortion until the 24th week under certain circumstances, such as when the pregnancy resulted from a sex crime. After a 40-day period when comments will be solicited from various fields, the government will submit the revised bill to the National Assembly.

This legal revision is the government’s response to the South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruling on Apr. 11, 2019, that the country’s current abortion law does not conform to the constitution. “Articles 269 and 270 of the criminal code, which punish pregnant women who get an abortion and doctors who perform an abortion with the consent of pregnant women, are unconstitutional because they constitute an excessive infringement upon pregnant women’s right to self-determination. As such, those articles of the law must be revised by Dec. 31, 2020,” the Constitutional Court said.

When the government declared the 14th week of pregnancy to be the limit for legal abortion in its proposed revision to the legal code, it was following the recommendation of the three justices on the Constitutional Court who wanted the current ban to be immediately struck down.

In their opinion, Lee Suk-tae, Lee Eun-ae, and Kim Ki-young said that “pregnant women should be allowed to reflect and decide whether or not to get an abortion.”

A different opinion was offered by Yoo Nam-seok, Seo Gi-seog, Lee Seon-ae, and Lee Young-jin, who agreed that the abortion ban was unconstitutional but thought the government should be given an opportunity to revise the law. “In regard to abortion prior to the 22nd week of pregnancy, the point at which the fetus can survive independently outside the mother’s body, it’s appropriate to allow the government to decide how, and to what extent, life should be protected,” the justices said.

Women’s rights advocates have long called for the abortion ban to be removed from the criminal code. They’ve also continued to argue that the number of weeks in a pregnancy isn’t a legitimate criterion for prosecuting women for abortion because there are individual variations in women’s physical condition and because it’s difficult to determine the exact week of pregnancy.

In August, the Gender Equality Policy Board, an advisory body for South Korea’s Ministry of Justice, recommended that the abortion ban be lifted altogether to guarantee women’s right to make their own decisions about pregnancy and birth rather than only allowing abortion until a certain week of pregnancy.

By Kim Jung-pil, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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