Friday, 23 August, 2019

South Korea court strikes down abortion law in landmark ruling

Protesters hold placards reading 'Abolish punishment for abortion' as they protest South Korean abortion laws in Gwanghwamun plaza in Seoul South Korea abortion ban ruled 'unconstitutional'
Deanna Wagner | 13 April, 2019, 09:11

South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday as "unconstitutional" a 66-year-old law that made abortion a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, calling for its amendment in a landmark decision that signals a major change in various aspects of society. In its verdict, the court said that criminalizing abortion prohibits a woman's "right to self-determination" and found that it imposed physical and psychological burdens on pregnant women as well as social and economic suffering.

Seven out of nine judges declared that the current penalising of abortion was "unconstitutional" and ordered parliament to revise the 1953 law. The law states that a woman who undergoes abortion will serve a prison sentence of one year or less, or pay a fine of 2 million won ($1,756.08) or less.

The court had previously upheld the abortion law in 2012 in a closely divided decision, dividing the eight justices evenly.

Convictions for violating the ban are rare. Outside the court in downtown Seoul, hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue gathered to await the decision. The case has polarized debate in South Korea in recent weeks, with anti-abortion activists carrying placards featuring fetuses also rallying outside the court.

In a dissenting opinion, two justices said that the articles were constitutional, arguing that a fetus has the right to life and the state can ban abortions to meet its duty to protect its people for public interest.

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The broadcaster reported that the push for the ban to be lifted came from a burgeoning movement fighting for women's rights in South Korea. "We deserve the world's attention and we deserve its recognition".

"Abortions will always happen, regardless of the law". According to campaigners, the procedure has been commonplace in South Korea and it has unfairly targeted mostly young, unwed women - who are most vulnerable to abortion-related stigma in the country. This judgment means that they should be carried out safely and legally, and that women and girls are treated with compassion and respect for their human rights and their reproductive autonomy. Not punishing abortion as a criminal offense would also make the procedure pervasive in society, the court said.

Yet between 2014 and 2018 only 64 abortion cases were prosecuted, with nearly all resulting in suspended sentences or probation, according to data from the prosecutor's office published in the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

Despite the criminal ban, abortions have been widely available and practiced in South Korea for decades, with 1 in 5 women saying past year in a government survey that they'd had an abortion. "The exceptions outlined by the Mother and Child Health Law fail to take into account diverse and extensive socioeconomic reasons behind abortions, such as its effect on a woman's academic or workplace career, and financial problems such as an insufficient income or resources to raise a child".

According to a survey on 504 adults released Wednesday by Realmeter, 58.3 percent of the respondents were in favor of abolishing the abortion ban.