Most Women Want Abortion to Be Legal

  • By Son Ho-young

    February 15, 2019 14:02

    Three out of four Korean women of childbearing age believe abortion should be legalized, a poll suggests. The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs carried out an online survey of 10,000 women between 15 and 44 last autumn, and 75.4 percent of respondents agreed that abortion should be legal.

    The government conducted its own surveys on abortion in 2005 and 2011, and although no exact comparison can be drawn, the general trend is overwhelmingly in favor of legalization.

    In the 2011 survey, more abortions were carried out by married women than by single ones, with figures splitting them 57 percent to 43 percent. Women in their early 30s and those who did not finish high school had a higher rate of abortion with 23 percent and 49 percent respectively.

    But in the latest poll, 51 percent of women who had abortions were married and 47 percent unmarried. Some 67 percent of those who had abortions were university graduates, compared to 20 percent who did not finish high school. Women in urban areas were much more likely to have abortions than in the countryside, where they may be less easily available.

    Women in their later 20 had the highest abortion rate with 30 percent, and 51 percent of them said they chose to abort as having a child would disrupt their studies or work.

    People rally in favor of legalizing abortion in Seoul. /Yonhap

    But there was also noticeable drop in the number of abortions. The abortion rate, which is the number of abortions per 1,000 people, dropped from 30 percent in 2005 to five percent in 2018. The annual number of abortions fell from 340,000 to 50,000 over the period.

    Lee So-young at KIHASA said, "It seems that various factors have contributed to this trend, such as more use of birth control and morning-after pills, and a decrease in the population of women of childbearing age."

    But experts are suspicious of the 50,000 figure. The Ministry of Health and Welfare estimates average annual abortions at 170,000, and even that seems too low to many doctors.

    Kim Dong-seok at the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said, "Previous surveys were conducted by Korea and Yonsei universities and their hospitals, but this one only depended on answers to online questionnaires." And Heo Min-sook at the National Assembly Research Service said, "Even if it was an anonymous online poll, many women may still have been wary of admitting they had an abortion."

    Korean law bans abortion, with exceptions being made in selective cases such as pregnancy resulting from rape, parents having genetic disease, or pregnancy posing a serious health threat. But in reality they are fairly common and rarely prosecuted.

    The survey was conducted after an online petition to legalize abortion on the Cheong Wa Dae website drew 235,372 signatures in November 2017. In response, the government promised to investigate the current situation. But the Ministry of Health and Welfare said it will wait for a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which last upheld the current law in 2012.

    One obstetrician who was indicted for illegally carrying out abortion submitted another constitutional appeal in 2017, so it has to review the question again.

    The ruling is expected by the end of next month.

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