South Korean court finds abortion ban unconstitutional

Pro life demonstrators in South KoreaCredit Jung Yeon Je  AFP  Getty Images Pro-life demonstrators in South Korea. | Jung Yeon-Je / AFP / Getty Images.

South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled an abortion ban in the country to be unconstitutional, receiving mixed responses from Korean citizens.

Seven of the nine justices on the court voted to repeal the law, ordering it to be revised by 2020. Two of the justices dissented.

The law, which was established in 1953, banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and serious risks to the mother's health.

Under the law, a woman who sought an abortion could face up to a year in prison or a $1,750 fine. A doctor who performed an abortion could face up to two years in prison.

The case was taken up by South Korea's Constitutional Court after an obstetrician was prosecuted for performing 69 illegal abortions during 2013 and 2015.

Kim Su-jung, the obstetrician's lawyer, applauded the court's decision, saying, "I believe this ruling frees women from shackles," according to Reuters.

The repeal drew criticism from pro-life advocates. According to KBS Radio, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea decried the court's decision, reiterating the Church's stance against abortion.

A statement signed by Archbishop Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, president of the bishops' conference, said the court decision denies vulnerable human beings of their basic right to life. It also stated that the ruling unjustly excludes men from their responsibility in unplanned pregnancies.

The Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soojung, has been an outspoken critic of legalizing abortion in South Korea's national debates.

"We should instead strengthen institutions that can help women healthily give birth to babies and raise them by recognizing a newborn's life as responsibility shared by both women and men, as well as society," said the cardinal, according to the China Daily.

"Human dignity cannot be decided by majority vote or judged by socioeconomic standards," Cardinal Yeom said at a Mass for Catholic congressmen last month.

Reuters reported that, due to contraceptive use, abortions in the country have decreased in recent years, with about 50,000 abortions in 2017. The majority of these abortions are illegal, but the government has been lax on the law's enforcement. During the same year, only eight claims of illegal abortion were newly prosecuted.

Before the court's decision, Cha Hee-jae, head of March for Life Korea, expressed concern that abortions would become more prevalent without the law.

"The government has done nothing to limit abortions," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "What will happen if the law gets abolished? Abortions will only increase."

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