South Korea labels abortion an 'immoral medical action'

Pregnant hospital doctor Credit Africa Studio Shutterstock CNA Africa Studio / Shutterstock.

The South Korean government included abortion in a list of "immoral medical actions" earlier this month as the country's abortion law was revised to enable authorities to suspend medical professionals for performing abortions illegally.

Abortion is reported to be very common in South Korea, although abortion is technically illegal, except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother's life.

About 340,000 abortions are performed annually in South Korea, while 440,000 child births are reported, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family.

"In high-income South Korea … safe but clandestine procedures are widely available, despite a fairly restrictive law," the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research and analysis to "advance sexual and reproductive health and rights", said in 2018.

Under current legislation, AFP reports, physicians who carry out abortions can be sentenced to up to two years in prison, and women who procure abortion can face a fine and up to one year imprisonment.

On Aug. 17, the South Korean Health and Wellness Ministry put a new rule into effect that will punish doctors for breaking the abortion law with a one-month suspension of their medical license.

The head of the Korean College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said Tuesday that its 2,000 member doctors will stop performing illegal abortions in compliance with the law as a "form of protest" or strike.

On Sunday, 125 women in South Korea publically ingested an abortion drug, mifepristone, and called for the legalization of abortion.

South Korea's Constitutional Court said earlier this month that its ruling on a case from a doctor who had been prosecuted for performing 70 abortions illegally will be delayed.

An online petition calling for abortion to be legalized in South Korea received 230,000 signatures last fall.

Catholics in South Korea have responded to the calls to legalize abortion.

At Korea's March for Life in June 2018, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung told Catholics, "Abortion is an attack not only on the fetus but on the pregnant woman. It will bring a culture of death into our society and should not even be an option."

Pope Francis visited a symbolic "cemetery for abortion victims" in South Korea during his 2014 visit to the country, where 800,000 Koreans attended Mass with the pope.

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