SEOUL, August 27, 2012, ( – The highest court in South Korea has issued a ruling recognizing the right to life of the unborn.

The eight members of the Republic of Korea’s court of last appeal upheld a law allowing jail time for doctors and midwives who perform illegal abortions, on the grounds that they were tasked with preserving life.

Since 1953, South Korea has made abortion illegal except in cases or rape, incest, severe maternal health risks, or profound birth defects. However, in practice, that ban has rarely been enforced in recent decades, and the country has an extremely high abortion rate.

The court’s August 23 ruling acknowledged that, while pregnancy is a life-altering event for the mother, “the right to life is also acknowledged for the fetus.” 

Jailing those who perform illegal abortions is not excessive, because doing so expresses “censure against people like midwives, who are charged with protecting the fetus’s life, performing a procedure that takes away the fetus’s life.”

“The fetus is itself a separate living being, and will very probably grow into a human being barring any special circumstances,” the ruling stated.

The legal challenge was filed by a midwife identified as “Song.”

Although the court issued a four-four split decision, overturning the law would have required six votes.

The four dissenters would have allowed elective abortion during the first trimester, based on a gestational view of the developing child. “A country’s legislative measures to protect life may vary in the degree and means of protection according to the stage of development in human life,” they wrote.

The most recent data available show that 95 percent of the estimated more than 340,000 abortions that took place in 2005 were illegal.   

The nation’s demographic crisis – South Korea has sometimes had the world’s lowest birthrate – has convinced the government to start enforcing the law on abortion.


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