In May, Ireland passed a referendum that relaxed its laws on abortion, making the practice more accessible to its citizens. While the Pro-Choice movement continues to grow at an alarming rate in Western, traditionally Christian, countries, other cultures are finding themselves in a similar struggle with abortion. And because of the actions of one doctor, the issue has come to the forefront of Korean politics, demonstrating the universality of the debate.
Since 1953, in Korea, abortion outside of rape, incest, and health has been punishable by law. Women who engage in such procedures can face up to a year in prison. Doctors can receive twice the amount of time. A doctor who has performed almost 70 abortions within the last two years, and has recently been prosecuted, is now challenging this law.
The doctor remains unnamed by media sources, but it has been reported that his challenge of South Korea’s law has reached the Constitutional Court, the highest authority in the nation. If his case wins out, the court could deem the aforementioned law as unconstitutional, thereby nullifying it and opening the nation to accessing abortions.
Despite its stringent laws, it appears that enforcement of them has been very liberal. The Korean Women’s Development Institute, according to The Korea Herald, estimates that approximately 20% of women who have been pregnant have had an abortion. Out of this figure, only about 1% said they had a legal reason, being rape, incest, or health risks.
Support for legalizing abortion appears to be split, for now. Korea’s Christian population remains strongly Pro-Life, while an additional bloc concerned with low birth rates across the country has become prominent, as well. This group, which extends beyond any specific religion or ideology, could be key in preserving the nation’s laws. This marks a key difference between Ireland’s abortion debate, which seemed to morph into a discussion focusing on religion.
Also unlike Ireland, South Korea’s rule has a distinct clause. A part of the law that remains relatively unique to Korea is the requirement for a husband’s permission to carry out an abortion. This not only limits the practice to married women, but leaves the decision in the hands of their husbands, too. This could potentially work against the Pro-Life movement of South Korea, which could be accused of being sexist, citing the law’s dependence on the husband.
To say the least, South Korea technically remains quite Pro-Life in policy. However, the severe lack of enforcement remains concerning to both Pro-Life groups who insist on the protection of the unborn, and the Pro-Abortion groups that cite the lack of enforcement as a reason to get rid of the law altogether.
While Ireland and Korea differ in culture, the fact that the subject of abortion has become so prevalent in both countries illustrates how dire the fight for life is across the globe. At this point, more details are still emerging from the upcoming court hearing, though no date has been set for it yet.