Early abortion may be allowed

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Early abortion may be allowed

Abortions 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 [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article

찬 “낙태 일부 허용이 생명 경시 막아”
반 “생명윤리 마지노선 뚫릴 수 있어”

“현실을 고려해 임신 초기인 경우 낙태를 허용해야 한다.” “제한적인 범위라고 해도 일단 허용하면 생명윤리의 마지노선이 뚫릴 수 있다.”

법무부 형사법개정특별위원회에서 ‘제한적 낙태 허용’ 의견이 제기됐다는 사실이 26일 본지에 보도되자 법조·의학계를 중심으로 논란이 확산되고 있다. 특히 “생명을 경시하는 것”이라는 비판을 우려해 침묵해온 학자들이 목소리를 내기 시작했다는 점에서 생산적 논의가 이뤄질 수 있을지 주목된다.

현행 형법 269조는 임신 기간과 관계 없이 모든 낙태를 처벌하도록 하고 있다. 다만 모자보건법을 통해 예외적인 경우(성폭행·친족 간 임신 등)에 한해 ‘임신한 날부터 24주 이내’에 인공임신중절(낙태) 수술을 받을 수 있도록 해왔다.

이에 대해 특위에서는 임신 초기(8~12주)의 낙태는 처벌 대상에서 제외하자는 의견이 나왔다.

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