Constitutional Court Overturns Abortion Ban

  • By Kim Chul-joong

    April 12, 2019 10:54

    The Constitutional Court on Thursday finally overturned Korea's widely ignored abortion ban. The bench ruled by a majority of 7:2 that the current law, which dates from 1953 and bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy, is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of pregnant women.

    The case was brought by a woman who had an abortion and the doctor who performed it after they were punished in a rare instance of the law being enforced.

    The National Assembly has until next year to revise the law, so with all necessary procedures abortion will probably become legal in Korea in 2021.

    The Constitutional Court last upheld the ban in 2012. At the time the main sticking points were the right of a fetus to life and the right of a pregnant women to choose, and the court ruled that the fetus' right to life takes precedence.

    But this time the court accepted the argument that a fetus' right to life is an "abstract" principle while the danger of violating a woman's right to choose is concrete.

    The court also ruled that the law is outdated because in reality some 170,000 abortions are performed in Korea every year and the ban could prompt pregnant women to seek unsafe abortions.

    The court said women are paying exorbitant fees for abortions and are unable to claim compensation for problems after surgery. The law has also caused many teens and impoverished women to abandon their babies after giving birth to them.

    At present, the only cases where abortion is legal is when fetuses have genetic abnormalities or were conceived as a result of rape. But the court capped abortion at the 22nd week of pregnancy, which is more or less the international standard. A court spokesman said the reason is that babies born prematurely after that time have been known to survive.

    Even under current law the cutoff point for legal abortions is 24 weeks. The National Assembly will decide the exact timeframe.

    The ruling is expected to lead to many people who were found guilty of violating the abortion law to be absolved or pardoned. Women's rights groups cheered the court's decision, calling it a "landmark ruling," but some religious groups expressed "deep regret." 

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