중앙데일리

Birthrate crisis forces tougher stand on abortion

Government task force also wants to offer more benefits to single mothers

Nov 16,2009
The abortion ban will be applied more strictly in a bid to combat Korea’s critically low birthrate, and the government will also consider providing the same social and financial benefits for single mothers as for married women, according to sources.

The JoongAng Ilbo has learned that one of the measures that the Presidential Council for Future and Vision will announce on Nov. 25 to deal with the low birthrate is a much tougher line on abortions, which are technically illegal in Korea but tolerated.

During the baby boomer years of the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, the government tried to encourage abortion as a way of controlling the nation’s growing population. It was part of an official policy then, but to deal with the low birthrate, the government will now have to do an about-face.

A high-ranking government official acknowledged that the birth promotion policy of recent years hasn’t been as effective as the birth control policy from decades ago. The official said abortion will be part of the new set of measures, adding, “We’re discussing ways in which to minimize controversy and objection and to maximize efficiency.”

Under the current law, doctors caught performing abortions and the women who have them are subject to prison terms of up to two years. In Korea, abortion is legally defined as artificially ending the life of a fetus aged 24 weeks or younger. According to the Ministry of Health, 350,000 abortions are carried out a year, while an average of 450,000 babies are born.

But few people have ever been punished for abortion. Between 2005 and September this year, only 17 abortion-related indictments were recorded. Exceptions are made for cases when an expectant mother’s life is in danger, if women have been subjected to sexual assault or incest, or have genetically-based mental or infectious illnesses. However, the Ministry of Health says only about 4 percent of abortions fall under this category.

Until the mid-1990s, local public health centers offered abortion procedures free of charge, even though it was illegal. The Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea, which is now called the Planned Population Federation of Korea, provided 28.8 billion won ($24.9 million) in funding to assist more than 1.6 million abortion procedures from 1974 to 1989. Doctors continued to perform abortions well into the new decade, often exploiting loopholes in the law, and did so even after 2005, when the government unveiled birth promotion plans.

Aside from the abortion measure, the government will also discuss expanding benefits for single moms and giving more benefits to families with multiple children. Also, the government will run brainstorming sessions to encourage more births among the middle class.

According to Health Ministry data for married women, the middle class - whose income is around the national average of 3.3 million won a month - had about 1.58 children per household, compared to 1.68 in families in the lower-income bracket and 1.71 children in the highest-income group. Most of the government’s current set of benefits for childbirth, including financial assistance, target lower-income families.


By Ahn Hai-ri [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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