중앙데일리

Group wants abortion laws enforced

Nov 11,2009
Despite its notorious low birthrate, Korea sees some 350,000 abortions annually, only 100,000 fewer than the 450,000 babies typically born.

Choi Anna
To many, that’s surprising. Abortion is prohibited in Korea except for exceptional cases. But the prohibition has hardly made a dent in the number of terminated pregnancies.

Recently, Gynob, a Korean group of dozens of obstetricians in their 30s and 40s, launched a movement against abortion. The group’s spokeswoman, Choi Anna, a practicing obstetrician, stands at the center of the drive.

In a recent interview, Choi said she intends to promote an anti-abortion movement until the practice is entirely wiped out of the country despite threats to her life by other private obstetricians who say her activities are bad for business.

Korea currently has some 4,000 OB-GYN doctors, according to state data.

“Our group has made it clear that we as obstetricians won’t rely on abortion for a living anymore,” she said.

According to the 43-year-old obstetrician - who confesses to once having profited from abortions at her hospital in Myeong-dong, central Seoul - Korean society’s tacit consent to abortion despite its illegality has prompted many obstetricians to secretly conduct the procedure.

“The country is now suffering from a low birthrate,” she said. “Probably because of its past policy of encouraging abortion as a way of slowing down an exploding population [in the 1970s and 1980s], the government seems to be reluctant now to clamp down. But we believe when doctors halt abortions, births could increase by more than 100,000 in one to two years. If this movement becomes successful, obstetricians won’t have to provide abortions for a living.”

She says a major portion of practicing obstetricians provide abortions because they are profitable. Delivering babies and giving gynecological treatment aren’t big moneymakers.

“Doctors performing abortions say they are ashamed to tell their families what they do,” she said. “When I opened my hospital seven years ago, I wanted to treat patients suffering from sterility, my expertise, but a major portion of my patients were those wanting abortions. I washed my hands countless times after abortion surgeries. In Korea, abortion is the easiest choice for pregnant women, regardless of their wealth, religion or educational background. But post-abortion trauma is gigantic.”

Under the Korean legal system, abortion is defined as artificially ending the life of a fetus aged 23 weeks or younger. Not only doctors who conduct abortions but also the women having them are subject to prison terms of up to two years.

Few, though, have ever been punished.

Exceptions are applied in cases where an expectant mother’s life is in jeopardy if she gives birth and in cases where women have been subjected to rape or incest or have infectious or genetically-based mental illnesses.

Choi said her group plans to send questionnaires on abortion to all government institutions, including the Blue House, and related research centers this month.

She says that unless the Health Ministry launches an investigation into the entire practice of conducting abortions for profit, her group will seek to have the ministry indicted by judicial authorities for neglecting its duties.

“We are thinking of implicating ourselves [for past abortions] since abortion has a five-year statute of limitation,” she said. “My fellow doctor Shim Sang-deok says our movement may bear fruit after he is imprisoned.”


By Ahn Hai-ri, Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]




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