Early abortion may be allowedAbortions may be legalized for newly pregnant women, according to a government committee considering changes to the law.
That guarantees a showdown with anti-abortion activists, such as a group of obstetricians and gynecologists who launched a campaign against easily available illegal abortions early this year.
The JoongAng Ilbo reported yesterday that some members of the committee, under the Ministry of Justice, said that public sentiment was strong enough to allow abortions for women who are eight weeks pregnant or less. According to several committee members, such a change was possible because it is “common for other advanced countries, such as the United States or Germany, to allow abortions within a limited time frame.”
The committee, composed of 24 legal specialists, said public hearings will start on Aug. 25 on proposals to be sent to the National Assembly later this year.
However, pro-life activists have warned that legalizing abortion will only boost the number of abortions.
The Pro-Life Doctors - an alliance of obstetricians, gynecologists, political and academic leaders with over 220 members - started a campaign against the nation’s easily available illegal abortions early this year by exposing doctors and clinics who performed them.
“Abortion is an unethical act that not only damages the mental and physical health of women but also damages respect for life,” said Dr. Shim Sang-duk, a member of the organization. “Underground abortions will not disappear even if abortions are legalized,” said Choi An-na, spokesperson for the group.
Pro-Life Doctors filed a petition to the Supreme Court on July 7 asking for punishment on abortion convictions and held an emergency meeting yesterday.
Abortion was criminalized in 1953 when the population was reduced after the Korean War, according to government records. However, the government started to draw up exceptions in the 1970s.
Currently, the law allows abortions within 24 weeks of fertilization for pregnancies that are detrimental to the mother’s health, result from rape, or in which there is a high risk of genetic disability either from the mother or father.
Other women who get abortions can face up to a year in prison. Doctors who perform the procedures can be jailed for up to two years in prison and lose their medical licenses.
Nonetheless, enforcement of the laws has been lax, and abortions are a lucrative business for doctors, with each procedure costing 300,000 won to 400,000 won ($260 to $350). The most recent research available to the Ministry of Health and Welfare is a survey done by Korea University in 2005 which concluded that 342,233 abortions were performed that year, which is equal to 78 percent of the number of infants born that year. However, only 29 cases of having illegal abortion were prosecuted during the four years since 2005, and fewer than 10 women were punished by fines or probation.
By Christine Kim, Hong Hye-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]