We, the Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion, welcome South Korea’s Constitutional Court decision on Thursday 11th of April 2019 to overturn a ban on abortion that has stood for more than 65 years by stating the current law unconstitutionally curbs women’s rights to abortion. The decision was met with cheers from hundreds of women waiting outside, many of whom have been campaigning for such a decision for many years.
We congratulate the Korean SRHR movement for its advocacy, networking, and mobilization efforts that resulted in the decriminalisation of abortion. This victory is huge step forward for Korean women as it embodies a strong commitment to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including their right to health, physical and psychological integrity, and bodily autonomy.
South Korea’s current laws governing abortion are some of the strictest in the developed world where it is criminalised in most cases and only allowed for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or if a woman or girl’s health is endangered by the pregnancy. However, South Korean doctors’ growing reluctance to provide abortions is affecting the availability of abortion services in even these circumstances with reports from the Korean Sexual Violence Relief Centre indicating an increase in the number of women denied abortions.
South Korea has been debating from a range of stakeholders as to whether the government should crack down on illegal abortion and enforce the abortion ban for many years now. Proponents of the crackdown come from two groups, the first is from government officials who advocate cracking down on abortion to increase the country’s fertility rate, which in 2009 was the second lowest in the world at 1.22%. The second is a group of service providers, who oppose abortion for religious reasons. Refusal of care for abortion can also have non-religious motives and in South Korea there is even a faction of non-religious service providers that oppose abortion because they feel it violates their ethical precepts, such as protecting the sanctity of life. Making abortion illegal does not stop it from happening, all it does is promote unsafe and clandestine abortions. In Asia, almost half of maternal deaths are attributed to complications resulting from unsafe abortion. The Korean Association of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists have opposed the crackdown of abortion indicating that it will lead to an increase in health problems from unsafe abortions as the operations are forced deeper underground, as well as increase in abandonment of children.
Women’s bodies have time and time again been used as political and ideological battlefields for these kind of debates. Claiming women’s right to safe abortion as a human right is the only way forward toward ensuring women are allowed to do what they want with their bodies and their lives. This means expanding the choices available to her to prevent unintended pregnancy which embraces access to information to reproductive health information and services that includes comprehensive range of contraception and access to safe abortion if they do not work. Not doing so will only put more women’s lives in danger. As such, we believe that Korean women and girls have the right to exercise meaningful decision-making power over their lives, as well as the right to access safe and comprehensive healthcare services, as part of the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil women’s rights.
The Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion calls for:
The Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion was launched in 2018 and currently comprises 7 civil society organisations; Naripokkho, Association for Prevention of Septic Abortion (BAPSA), Reproductive Health Association Cambodia (RHAC), CommonHealth, Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC), Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNNR) and the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) committed to realising the right to safe abortion for all women through strategic interventions that recognise abortion as a rights issue.
If you or your organisation is interested in joining the Alliance please sign up here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc6BLEzJqb14J2ixjj6RTj_W7DXROdoOXOu_MZER_7GB6qqsg/viewform or scan the QR code below:
Andrew Wolman, Abortion in Korea: A Human Rights Perspective on the Current Debate Over Enforcement of the Laws Prohibiting Abortion, The Journal of International Business and Law, https://law.hofstra.edu/pdf/academics/journals/jibl/jibl_vol9no1_wolman_abortion.pdf