Last Thursday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court declared that a 1953 ban on abortions was unconstitutional, giving the South Korean Parliament until 2020 to revise the law. If the Parliament fails to pass a revision, the law will become null and void.
Before the ban was uplifted, the 66 year law stated that should a woman receive and abortion, she could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to 2 million won ($1750 USD). Doctors that performed an illegal abortion could face up to 2 years in prison. Although illegal, the law failed to be enforced— in 2017, the state-sponsored Korean Institute for Health and Affairs estimated that 49,700 abortions had taken place. However, across the span of 2012 and 2017 only 80 women and doctors went to trial for the charge of illegal abortions.
The change in legislation was supported by a majority of the South Korean people according to recent polls. The law was made in a time when the nation was one of the least developed in the world, and where more conservative social policies were commonplace. South Korea has rapidly modernized since the turn of the 21st century, becoming a world economic and political leader. The ban on abortion is a rare vestigial law, with South Korea being one of the only developed countries with an abortion plan still in place. The decriminalization of abortion is indicative of an increasingly socially liberal politics and population.
Although many in Korea see this as a necessary social reform, there are still many conservative groups opposed to the change. On April 6th, anti-abortion protestors convened in Seoul for the “March for Life”. The population of South Korea is heavily Evangelical Christian, and many affiliated religious groups have contention with the morality of abortion.
Japan, a rapidly developing country similar to South Korea, now faces a population crisis with declining birth rates— a smaller young population cannot support the older population. Some fear that this could act as the nail in the coffin to a declining population, and plunge Korea into a similar situation as Japan.
Although there is still opposition to the decision, this indicates a growing socially liberal awareness in South Korea.