Wednesday July 28, 2010

South Korea Looks at Legalizing Abortion

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

SEOUL, July 28, 2010 ( – Early-term abortion may be legalized in South Korea, according to a Ministry of Justice committee considering changes to the law, reports the Korean journal JoongAng Daily.

South Korea’s Mother and Child Health Law permits abortion only when the mother’s health is in serious danger, or in cases of rape, incest or severe genetic disorder. Abortion is illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy and technically punishable by the Korean Penal Code.

However, the government has for decades turned a blind eye to the flourishing illegal abortion trade, with the result that South Korea already has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

According to JoongAng Daily, members of the government committee justified their move toward legalization by citing the widespread acceptance of abortion in the country, pointing out that it is “common for other advanced countries, such as the United States or Germany, to allow abortions within a limited time frame.”

Official data from the Ministry of Health indicates that doctors perform about 350,000 abortions per year, while they deliver on average just 450,000 babies, meaning 43.7 percent of pregnancies end in abortion.

However, the actual number of abortions may be at least five times the official estimate, with a spokesman from the ruling Grand National Party saying that a National Assembly inspection last October found that the number of illegal abortions in Korea exceeds 1.5 million a year or roughly 4,000 babies aborted per day.

South Korea’s total fertility rate is now estimated at 1.19 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world and far below the 2.1 replacement rate which demographers say is the threshold for population stability.

Late last year the Korean government’s Presidential Council for Future and Vision announced plans to encourage parents to have more children and to enforce the laws restricting abortion in order to reverse the looming specter of severe demographic implosion that threatens the country’s economic stability.

The move by the Ministry of Justice to look at legalization of abortion seems to fly in the face of the government’s “Increase Koreans” project, aimed at increasing the birth rate and persuading more women to carry their pregnancies to term.

Korean pro-life groups have warned that legalizing early-term abortion will only increase the number of abortions.

One group, Pro-Life Doctors, has been formed to encourage women to carry their pregnancies to birth and to encourage doctors to abandon the practice of abortion. The organization runs a hotline to report practitioners of illegal abortion to the police.

“Underground abortions will not disappear even if abortions are legalized,” Dr. Choi Anna, spokesperson for the group, told the JoongAng Daily.

The head of another pro-life doctors organization called Gynob, Dr. Shim Sang-duk, has encouraged doctors to declare whether they have performed illegal abortions.

“Abortion is an unethical act that not only damages the mental and physical health of women but also damages respect for life,” Dr. Shim said.

The Ministry of Justice committee told the media that public hearings will start on Aug. 25 on legal abortion proposals to be sent to the National Assembly later this year.

See related LSN articles:

South Korean Doctors Organize Pro-Life Groups to Discourage Rampant Abortion

Korean Physician Faces Death-Threats after Pro-Life Conversion

Demographic Implosion Spurs Panicked South Korea to Enforce Abortion Ban


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