South Korea to loosen restrictions on abortion despite low birth rate

A bill to decriminalize abortion up to the fourteenth week of was tabled in the South Korean parliament this week.

South Korea has banned abortion since 1953. Exceptions were introduced in 1973, especially in cases of rape or incest. However, the Constitutional Court overturned the ban in April last year, considering that it restricted women's rights. The government has been ordered to draft a new law.

The draft bill bans abortion after 14 weeks except in cases of rape or incest, if the mother's health is at risk, or if the foetus shows signs of severe birth defects. Under these circumstances, it would be allowed up to 24 weeks.

Even if it is not legal, abortion is still common. According to the Health Ministry, 30 out of every 1,000 Korean women between the ages of 15 and 44 had an abortion in 2005. This put South Korea in the top three countries for abortions per capita, only behind Russia and Vietnam.

Pro-life critics oppose the new legislation on the grounds that all life is sacred and should be protected. Feminists, however, believe that it does not go far enough. "Women's organizations are very critical of the plan as the government is still maintaining a policy of regarding women as the ones who need to be controlled, not individuals who have the right to decide their sexual and reproductive health," Oh Kyung-jin, of the Korean Women's Associations United told Deutsche Welle.

South Korea's fertility rate, at 1.1 births per woman, is the lowest of 198 countries and, according to the 2020 United Nations Population Fund report, far behind the global average of 2.4 births per woman.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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