[Viewpoint]A secret scourgeWhat would you do if you found out your teenage daughter was pregnant? Would you hush it up and quietly force her to get an abortion? Or would you find out who the father is and discuss the matter with his parents?
Teenage pregnancy is not just an issue for sexually open Western countries. It is happening right here in Korea. However, Korean parents are not discussing the matter. Instead, they are busy making money to pay for after-school education.
So, who can our youth confide in when they get pregnant?
Some high school students raise money with their friends in case they need money for a surgical procedure. Some girls resort to visiting an unlicensed practitioner to end their unwanted pregnancy in a cheap motel room. We cannot continue to ignore the problem.
According to research by the Ministry of Health and Welfare conducted in 2005, there are about 340,000 abortions a year on average in Korea. Considering the fact that about 470,000 babies are born every year, the number of abortions is simply astonishing. Among them, approximately 140,000 cases are pregnancies involving unmarried mothers, including minors.
Korea’s criminal laws strictly prohibit abortion, but the Mother and Child Health Law legally permits abortion if the mother has a health problem or has been raped. However, a mother is not allowed to get an operation if she cannot afford to raise a child, is unmarried or is a minor. In such cases, the mother must opt for an illegal abortion by an unlicensed practitioner, which poses great health risks.
It is not an exaggeration to say there has never been any serious discussions about abortion. Both the criminal law, which strictly bans most abortions, and the Mother and Child Health Law, which widely recognizes concerns about children, contagious diseases and mental conditions as reasons for an abortion, are not adequate for the reality of the situation.
In other countries, the social and economic situation of the mother is widely acknowledged as a reason for an abortion, but she needs to go through a complicated process, which includes counseling sessions. Also, they are careful to say that a pregnancy can only be terminated 20 weeks before gestation. In contrast, a mother can decide to end a pregnancy up to 28 weeks beforehand.
When a minor or an unmarried woman gets pregnant, opting for an abortion has become commonplace. In making such a choice, people do not take into account that they should be responsible for their actions or respect the right of the fetus. Many pregnant singles have no idea how to raise and support a baby if they decide to have one.
Of course, an increasing number of youths are deciding to give birth and raise children.
However, the moment they make such a decision, they have to fight prejudice in society. They have a harder time finishing school and getting a job is not easy. With all the responsibilities asked of an individual with little financial stability, illegal abortions will increase, putting more pregnant women in danger.
Preventative education should be reinforced to make people more aware of the responsibility that comes with sexual activities and more knowledgeable about birth control.
If a girl is pregnant with an unwanted baby, instead of pushing her to get an abortion, we should encourage her to contemplate the value of life and make efforts as a society to save the life.
The social prejudices against pregnant youths and single mothers needs to change. Blaming them and calling them irresponsible won’t solve the problem. Anyone who is willing to give birth and raise a child should be warmly encouraged for making a difficult decision, and given help for the future.
Instead of asking the unmarried mother alone to take responsibility, both the mother and the father need to help care for the child.
In Germany and other countries, a single mother has a right to find out the father of her baby through genetic tests, and the father is responsible for child care expenses. Moreover, the Korean government needs to expand shelters for single mothers and pregnant youths.
It is about time we seriously contemplate the abortion issue without being restricted by nominal laws.
We need revisions of related laws and social systems to have a more realistic definition of pregnancies that are allowed to be terminated and to provide educational counseling that teaches the value of life.
* The writer is a professor of medical laws and ethics at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim So-yun