In 1953, Korea first enacted a law that deemed abortion as a criminal act that was punishable for up to 1-year imprisonment for the mother or a 2 million won (~$1,750 USD) fine. The operating physician could also be imprisoned for up to 2 years.
Since then, abortion was only legally allowed on a few cases with exceptions, such as rape, incest, harm to the mother’s health, or hereditary disorder.
However, the Constitutional Court ruled today that the country’s strict ban on abortion was unconstitutional. The 9 justices ruled in a 7-2 vote, claiming it was unfair to give more weight to the value of protecting a fetus’s life over the violation of a woman’s rights.
The ruling was a response to a 2017 complaint filed by an obstetrician who was standing trial for performing multiple abortions. The claimant argued that “limiting a pregnant woman’s right to choose freely [goes] against the principle that infringements on a person’s right must be kept to a minimum.”
The court ultimately overturned a previous decision that was set back in August 2012. The 2012 decision upheld the first enacted law banning abortion after it ruled that a fetus’s right to life was just as important as a woman’s right to free choice. At the time, they deemed allowing abortions would become a procedure pervasive in society.
A recent survey by Gallup Korea seems to mirror the court’s new decision as only 45% respondents agreed that abortion was another word for murder, a significant decline from 53% back in 2016 and 78% from 1994.
The decision also comes at a time when South Korea faces a staggering low birthrate. 2018 studies showed that a woman in South Korea is expected to have an average number of 0.98 children, the lowest among the OECD nations.
The government announced that it will respect the court’s new ruling and will require the parliament to revise the related laws by the end of next year.
“Relevant government ministries will cooperate to seamlessly come up with follow-up measures to the court’s decision”
— South Korean Government