SEOUL, South Korea — Lee Na-yeon was 18 years old and in her initial semester in college when she found, to her dismay, that she was pregnant.
Ms. Lee went to a hospital and had an abortion. But as a graduate of a Catholic higher school exactly where she had been shown graphic videos portraying abortion as murder, she felt scared and tormented by guilt.
She had also broken the law.
Abortion is illegal in South Korea with just a few exceptions, such as when a woman has been raped or her health is at risk. It is one of just a handful of the world’s richest nations to have such restrictive abortion laws. Women can be sentenced to a year in prison or ordered to spend fines of two million won (about $1,840) for having abortions, while doctors who execute them can get up to two years in prison.
Now, a group of women’s advocates is pushing to overturn the ban, and the country’s Constitutional Court is set this year to evaluation a case that challenges the law’s constitutionality.
Last fall, much more than 230,000 men and women signed an on the internet petition submitted to the presidential office, recognized as the Blue House, calling for abortion to be legalized.
The activists are looking for to bring the law closer to the existing reality. The ban on abortion is seldom enforced, and it is reasonably straightforward for girls to locate prepared doctors at clinics. According to a government estimate, based on a survey of girls of childbearing age, 169,000 abortions had been carried out in 2010, the latest year for which data is available from the Health and Welfare Ministry.
That number, which represents close to 16 abortions per 1,000 men and women, gives South Korea the 10th highest abortion rate amongst the 35 mainly higher-revenue countries that are members of the Organization for Financial Cooperation and Development.
But independent evaluation by public wellness scholars suggests that the actual number is significantly larger. According to research by Park Myung-bae, a professor at Pai Chai University in the city of Daejeon, the annual tally is as high as 500,000 or much more — higher than the number of babies born in South Korea in 2016.
And handful of girls or medical doctors are prosecuted for abortion. Last year, according to the South Korean Supreme Court, just 25 such circumstances went to trial, with 4 leading to convictions. For decades, the government’s enforcement of the ban has waxed and waned with the prevailing population trends.
Advocates calling for an end to the ban have long argued that South Korea’s laws violate a woman’s proper to make alternatives about her physique. Even in the restricted instances when an abortion is legal, a lady should get permission from her spouse or cohabiting companion.
Advocates say the ban makes females in search of abortions vulnerable to reprisals boyfriends, former boyfriends, husbands and in-laws have reported women to the police, according to South Korean news reports.
Kim Jin-seon, head of the women’s well being group at Womenlink, a nonprofit advocacy group, mentioned the abortion law is rooted in broader biases against ladies in South Korea.
“Everything is associated to how the government views the existence of ladies, and whether they are just looked at as vessels to give birth or if they are concerned about the high quality of life of females as full-fledged citizens,” Ms. Kim mentioned.
So far, the administration of President Moon Jae-in has agreed only to study the question of overturning the ban. In a video statement in response to the petition, Cho Kuk, a senior presidential adviser, mentioned the administration hoped to “find a new balance” in a debate about the rights of girls and fetuses.
He acknowledged that the abortion ban was “making the operation more costly and pushing people to get hazardous procedures or even to travel overseas.”
Lee Jin-sung, chief justice of the Constitutional Court, stated for the duration of his confirmation hearing that the court would contemplate producing abortion legal for at least element of a pregnancy.
Abortion rights advocates say that even with lax enforcement, females will be topic to political whims as extended as the law is in spot.
“The president could just at the stroke of a pen say, ‘That’s it, we’re going to have zero tolerance now,’ ” said Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in London, adding that “everyone is living under a hanging sword all the time.”
The law also creates a culture of shame amongst women, activists say.
“They are silenced simply because abortion is stigmatized and considered immoral,” stated Lee Yu-rim of the Sexual and Reproductive Rights Forum, a group that participated in protests in Seoul in November calling for legalization.
For years, officials turned a blind eye to the prevalence of abortion as they sought to advance social goals. In the 1970s and 1980s, as South Korea’s population grew quickly, the government mounted a campaign to handle the birthrate, issuing propaganda posters with slogans like “It’s also crowded in Korea” and “Even two is also significantly.”
Obstetricians and legal scholars say that abortion, which has been banned because 1953, was tacitly encouraged in these years. In 1973, the government revised the law to permit abortions for rape victims and couples who could prove they had hereditary diseases.
“It was utilized as a population control indicates,” stated Dr. Yoon Jung-won, an obstetrician at Green Hospital in Seoul and a researcher with the Center for Wellness and Social Alter, a nonprofit organization. In conservative South Korea, she said: “Nobody truly saw it as a correct. Even amongst the activists, the idea of the correct to have an abortion was regarded as a Western notion.”
As the birthrate started to fall precipitously in the 2000s, the government once more turned to the abortion law — this time, suggesting that it might be enforced much more rigorously. In 2009, it issued a report calling for a new anti-abortion campaign, amongst other measures, and some lawmakers hinted that the authorities would start to crack down.
A group of physicians formed the Pro-Life Medical doctors Association in 2009 and began reporting clinics identified to execute abortions to the police. The courts punished only a handful of doctors, but the publicity initially had a chilling effect.
“This new organization scared off the physicians and made them hesitant to perform abortions,” Dr. Yoon said. As a result, the cost of an abortion quadrupled, and some ladies sought the procedure in Japan or China, she said.
“But right after that, every thing went back to standard,” stated Chong Hyon-mi, director of the Institute for Gender and Law at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
Dr. Cha Hee-jae, president of the Pro-Life Medical doctors Association, stated some obstetricians became abortion providers because the declining birthrate had created it challenging for them to earn a living.
An obstetrician himself, Dr. Cha, who works in a village of about 6,000 people east of Seoul, said most of his income now comes from cosmetic procedures and treatments for back pain.
Dr. Cha, a devout Catholic, stated he just wanted the government to enforce the law. “Our mission is to decrease the quantity of abortions taking place,” he stated.
One more supporter of the ban is Choi Yi-hwa, 38, a portion-time Korean teacher and mother of two who had 1 abortion in college and another in her 20s. She said it took her years in counseling to recover from her trauma and feelings of guilt.
“I still really feel that there was sin involved,” she said. Maintaining abortion illegal, she mentioned, forces females to think deeply about their choice.
But abortion rights advocates say the law does tiny to deter abortions in a culture exactly where birth manage is not broadly embraced. Numerous ladies are not aware of contraception choices like the birth handle pill or IUD, and even a recent proposal by the Education Ministry for a new sex education curriculum advisable the withdrawal strategy as a primary way to avoid pregnancy.
Ms. Lee, now 23, is in her final year of university as a philosophy key. She said she became pregnant simply because her boyfriend did not want to use a condom. “We had been stupid,” she mentioned.
Getting an abortion made her feel dirty, Ms. Lee mentioned, and since it was illegal, she didn’t really feel she could talk about her encounter with anyone. But more than time, she mentioned, she came to comprehend that she produced the correct option.
She now desires the law to be changed so other ladies won’t go by means of the anguish she did.
“People can start off to believe that they haven’t committed a sin, and can feel far more at ease to make these decisions,” she said.
Published at Sat, 13 Jan 2018 13:31:09 +0000