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Justice ministry committee recommends repealing anti-abortion law

All News 18:06 August 21, 2020

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's justice ministry said Friday it is working on revising a 67-year-old criminal law that made abortion a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

The Committee of Gender Equality under the ministry made its first policy recommendation that the ministry should recognize women's right to choose as a basic human right and move closer to repealing the decades-old law.

"Women's voices and experiences should be actively considered (in policymaking)," the committee said in a press release. It added that the right to choose is guaranteed "by the Constitution, the Framework Act of Gender Equality and the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women."

The belated move came more than a year after the country's Constitutional Court declared in April last year in a landmark ruling that the anti-abortion law is unconstitutional by violating a woman's right to choose.

At that time, the court gave the National Assembly until the end of this year time to revise the law. The law will become null and void if the deadline is not met.

According to two articles of the country's Criminal Act, which was made into law in 1953, a woman who "procures her own miscarriage through the use of drugs or other means" shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one year or by a fine of up to two million won (US$1,685). Also a doctor who performs an abortion with a patient's consent can be slapped with imprisonment of up to two years and up to three years if performed without permission.

A coalition of women's rights groups holds a press conference on April 10, 2020, in front of the National Assembly in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Constitutional Court's ruling that the country's anti-abortion law is unconstitutional. (Yonhap)

Abortions are only legally allowed in case of rape or when carrying the pregnancy is likely to put the expectant mother's health at great risk.

The same court in 2012 ruled that the law is constitutional, citing that a fetus' right to life is as important as that of a woman and that allowing abortion would make it rampant.

But women's rights activists have been arduously calling for abolishment, arguing that making it a criminal offense only deteriorates situations in which a medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy takes place anyway and that many women face greater health risks during the illegal process.

In April, a coalition of women's groups held a press conference in front of the National Assembly in commemoration of the first anniversary of the court's ruling, calling for swift action to repeal the law.

"The reality facing (South Korean) women who have to endure violence and stigma (associated with abortion) did not change," said Na Young, the head of Share, a women's rights group. "The government and the National Assembly should act to protect women who undergo an abortion, and not let them suffer alone."

The ministry said the government's final stance on the issue has yet to be finalized and that it will make efforts to hear more opinions and complete a revision of the law by the end of this year.


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