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Controversies brewing over abortion following gov't survey

Welfare/Medicine 16:57 February 15, 2019

SEOUL, Feb. 15 (Yonhap) -- Controversies reignited on Friday over whether to allow abortion after a government survey showed that many women had opted to end their pregnancies due to socio-economic reasons.

On Thursday, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs released a survey on 10,000 women aged between 15 and 44, the first nationwide fact-finding survey on abortion in eight years.

Under South Korean law, abortions are illegal unless there are extenuating circumstances such as the unborn baby posing a serious health risk to the mother. Pregnancies resulting from statutory rape or incest are also subject to exceptions.

The survey showed that the abortion rate reached 4.8 abortions per every 1,000 fertile women in 2017, compared with 29.3 in 2005 and 15.8 in 2010.

The report said 46.9 percent of women who opted to end their pregnancies were unmarried, followed by 37.9 percent for married women and 13 percent of women in common law marriages.

The survey also showed that 33.4 percent of the respondents said they opted to terminate their pregnancies as it would deter their work and education, followed by 32.8 percent citing economic reasons.

The report concluded that the most frequently cited reasons for having an abortion were socio-economic concerns or economic limitations.

Controversies over the balance between the right to life and women's self-determination have long been a serious social issue in the country.

In 2010, the government attempted to revise a law to allow more abortions but was strongly opposed by religious circles, who cited that human life should be categorically respected from the first moment of conception.

In 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current law stipulating stern punishment for midwives and others administering an abortion is constitutional.

More than 75 percent of the surveyed women said the law on abortion should be amended. The current law stipulates a prison term of one year and a fine of less than 2 million won (US$1,780) if a woman receives an abortion.

Women's civic groups and some doctors argue that the law should be revised to allow abortions under more diverse circumstances.

Currently, women must submit proof that they were raped or that their health is at risk. The procedure or surgery also must be carried out within the first six months of the pregnancy.


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