SEOUL, Nov. 27 (Korea Bizwire) – Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk said in an official statement and video uploaded on the Facebook page of the Blue House that the government will conduct a detailed investigation into abortions next year.
Cho’s statement was the government’s response to a petition that had been lodged on the Blue House’s website calling for the de-criminalization of abortions and emphasizing the need for non-invasive, medication administered abortions as an alternative option to surgical procedures.
Posted on October 29, the petition gained more than 200,000 signatures in 28 days; the presidential administration had guaranteed that petitions garnering at minimum 200,000 signatures in support within 30 days would receive an official response from the head of the relevant ministerial department.
Besides the announcement of the abortion investigation – a study that was conducted once every five years until it was abandoned starting in 2010 – Cho also said, “The Constitutional Court is once again dealing with the decision as to whether abortions should be considered a constitutional violation, which opens up a new arena of discussion. Conversations ranging from legality to societal impact should follow.”
Abortions are currently prohibited except under specific circumstances:
- The woman or her partner possess genetically-based mental disorders or physical disabilities
- The woman or her partner is ill with an infectious disease
- The woman is the victim of rape or other measures of sexual coercion
- The woman has been impregnated by someone she cannot marry (family members)
- The woman’s health and well-being has been assessed to be at risk or in danger, and both the woman and the man consent to an abortion
For all other cases, women can be punished with up to one year in prison and/or a maximum 2 million won fine. Medical professionals who are found guilty of carrying out an abortion can be levied a maximum two-year prison sentence.
Despite the legal strictures in place, however, previously published research shows that a minuscule number of prosecutions occur. The Ministry of Health and Welfare released a report conducted in 2011 that estimated 168,700 abortions had taken place in 2010. Moreover, casting the efficacy of the anti-abortion law into doubt, the data revealed that those formally indicted numbered in the teens.
A survey shed further light on the realities behind abortion, revealing that 51 percent gave “unwanted pregnancy” as their reason for undergoing the procedure, while 26 percent said “not married”. With 17.9 percent responding with “financial hardship from low income or unstable employment prospects”, over 90 percent were for reasons that could not be considered “legal”.
Cho highlighted the risks that women face when deciding on an abortion. “The life of a fetus is an extremely valuable right, but administrative measures that are geared towards strengthening punishment generate undesirable byproducts such as the proliferation of a black market for abortion, increased risk through dangerous procedures, pushing abortion behind closed doors and burdening women with very expensive costs.”
The health and safety of women who undergo unsafe abortions is an international problem that has been pointed out by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2006, the WHO revealed that 68,000 of 20 million had died from such procedures.
Expressing his hope for greater dialogue that entertains the topic from a diversity of viewpoints, Cho also said that the prospect of legalizing “abortion pills” could be decided based on greater discussion.