South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s abortion ban was unconstitutional in April last year. The court gave South Korea’s National Assembly until the end of 2020 to revise the abortion law, which formerly only legally allowed abortion in the cases of rape, incest, genetic disease, or risk to the mother’s health.
Before the supreme court ruling, abortion was known to be common in South Korea and the criminal penalty rarely enforced. But pro-life advocates worry that the government’s recently recommended revisions to the abortion law are paving the way for unregulated abortion on demand.
“A grace period for revision has been given until Dec. 31, 2020. Unless there is a change, the criminal law on abortion will be abolished. Which means that women will be able to have abortion without any restriction of the law regardless of the period of pregnancies from Jan. 1, 2021,” the pro-life association’s letter said.
The students included a document for the pope translated into Italian outlining the legislation that they are promoting to support pregnant mothers to choose life in light of the court’s decision.
The student’s policy recommendations echoed those advocated by the Archdiocese of Seoul’s Committee for Life, which is calling for the revised law to include mandatory counseling for women considering abortion, financial responsibility requirements for biological fathers, and the legal ability for mothers to deliver anonymously due to the cultural stigma surrounding unwed pregnancies in Korea.
The nuncio told the students that Pope Francis would receive the letter and the documents by Aug. 25.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, presented a letter to the South Korean President Moon Jae-In recommending pro-life policies during a meeting Aug. 20 at the Blue House, the president’s residence, with a delegation of seven other bishops.
The justice minister promoting the pro-abortion legislation is a member of the president’s cabinet. South Korea’s president is Catholic, but has not taken a public stand on the abortion law.
Cardinal Yeom has been an outspoken advocate for the protection of unborn life in South Korea’s national debates. He chairs the archdiocesan Committee for Life.
“Every human being is the subject of the constitutional right to life,” Yeom said in a message to the South Korean Ministry of Justice on Aug. 13.
“The recommendation to abolition of abortion law, which is known to be released by the Ministry of Justice’s Gender Equality Policy Committee, is unfair, as it implies a complete abandonment of the state's obligation to protect the life of the unborn child,” he said.
The cardinal argued that the complete abolition of abortion regulations would be contrary to the purpose of the Constitutional Court’s decision, which regarded the criminal penalty for obtaining an illegal abortion.
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The Korean government reported 168,738 abortions and 470,171 live births in the country in 2010.
Pope Francis brought attention to the issue of abortion in South Korea during his visit to South Korea in 2014, by praying at a cemetery for aborted children created by the Korean religious community of Kkottongnae.
Br. James Sang-Hyun Shin, a doctor and religious brother with the Congregation of Kkottongnae, was part of the delegation that met with the apostolic nuncio last week.
He was joined by Professor Seung-Joo Kim, a priest and faculty adviser for the pro-life student association, Sr. Kim Sun-mi, and Sr. Kim Myung-Shim of the Kkottongnae Sisters.
“Korea’s current administration suggests a model of ‘inclusivity’ … but its policies only include as their subjects infants to the elderly. In the policies of a government that claims to guarantee support for all people in all stages of their lives, the unborn children, the start of life, are excluded,” Br. Shin told CNA.