Korea’s confused about abortion too

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Korea’s confused about abortion too

Yang Sung-hee
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned Roe vs. Wade, a landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in the United States in 1973. That sent a shockwave across the world. After the constitutional right to abortion is put in the hands of individual states, half of the 50 states in America are expected to outlaw or restrict abortion. Women found the move a decisive retreat in their reproductive rights. Global leaders voiced concerns.

Abortion is allowed across Europe as well as state-controlled China and Vietnam and Catholic countries like Ireland and Mexico. According to the U.S. Center for Reproductive Rights, as many as 50 states have changed their laws to allow greater access to abortion over the last 25 years. The ruling has been cheered by some and condemned by others, turning the United States of America into the Divided States of America over abortion.

In South Korea, abortion has been in limbo since the Constitutional Court in April 2019 found criminal persecution of abortion infringing on the self-determination rights of women. Although abortion no longer is a criminal act, there has been no replacement act since the National Assembly missed the Dec. 31, 2020 deadline to make one. Amid political indifference and irresponsibility, there are six related bills pending at the legislature. The conservative People Power Party (PPP) proposes abortion be restricted to six to 10 weeks into pregnancy, while the liberal Democratic Party (DP) and Justice Party (JP) want to completely ban anti-abortion laws or allow a choice to end pregnancy within 24 weeks.

Many people consider the conflict simply a battle between the right to life of the unborn and the right to self-determination of women. But the female community has been championing a scrapping of that dichotomy. Legal boundaries of abortion depend on the pregnancy period and the age of the fetus. But the female community argues that a fetus reliant on the mother should not be placed as being adversary to the mother.

Pregnancy and births should not become subject to state control, and reproductive rights are a part of the civilian rights of every woman. So, the state must respect the right of every woman to carry and deliver a child in a safe manner as much as the right not to carry or deliver a child in a safe manner. This is how abortion has become increasingly accepted among the strictest Catholic states.

The Constitutional Court in Korea wrote that the wellbeing of a pregnant woman translates into the wellbeing of the child she bears, and therefore their interests are the same. It agreed that if a mother chooses not to have a child due to undesirable conditions, it is still the best choice for the child. The Constitutional Court stipulated that adequate medical service and care is necessary before and after abortions. Amid a hiatus of related laws, consulting and information on abortion remains restricted. If abortion is delayed due to a lack of information, the mother is at risk. Underaged or disabled women are more exposed to such dangers.

Changes in the U.S could affect trends in Korea. The conservative religious community has welcomed the U.S. ruling. The women’s rights community fears a debate in the legislature could be restricted to the scope of pregnancy in terms of weeks.

In an interview with the JoongAng Sunday, Professor Kim Jung-hye of the Korean Women’s Development Institute said it is no longer desirable to create a punitive provision that has already lost effect. The question is who should be the judge of restricting abortion. She said that abortion based on a woman’s judgment should better be referred to the medical sector.

The responsibility for unplanned or unwanted pregnancies falls on both the man and woman. But a woman solely pays the physical, legal, moral and social price of abortion. Abortion is the centerpiece of the gender equality issue. If abortion is feared to lessen the respect for life, education on pregnancy prevention can be strengthened. To reduce abortions, our society must first offer a better environment to raise a child.
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