In the United States, the discussion over abortion rights is a political hot issue. Recently, when a law banning abortion was enacted in the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, strong opposition has emerged, especially among women and civic groups. In the United States, abortion is an important social issue, as it is one of the criteria for separating progressives and conservatives. If so, how is the abortion rights movement going in Korea?
In the case of South Korea, on April 11, 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled that the existing abortion criminal law did not comply with the Constitution. According to this decision, the Korean National Assembly was obliged to remove or revise the punishment clause for abortion by December 31, 2020 to legalize abortion in part or in full. During this period, however, the legislature and the administration failed to make decisions on alternative legislation, leaving abortion rights and restrictions legally void.
Eventually, abortion in Korea was fully legalized from January 1, 2021. However, there is no alternative legislation to guarantee women's right to abortion, so the legislative gap on abortion has not been completely resolved.
Nevertheless, while abortion charges have been abolished, abortion is still not considered legal in all cases. Abortion is illegal when abortion does not fall under Article 14 of the Mother and Child Health Act. This is because abortion implemented by the Mother and Child Health Act has not been enforced. According to article 14 of the Mother and Child Health Act, abortion within 14 weeks is not a problem, but after 14 weeks, surgery is legally possible only if social and economic reasons are fully supported. In fact, legal debates continue to arise over abortion even after 2021. As such, abortion crimes in Korea have been completely abolished, but new bills have not been to address, so the issue of abortion still remains.
Koreans who insisted on abolishing abortion mainly asserted women's rights. Jeon Yoon-Jeong said in her research paper, “The abortion law violated women's right to self-determination and threatened women's health and life.” She also said in her paper that in Korea, 2018, for this reason, there was a strong demand for the abolition of existing abortion laws. Women’s organizations argued that abortion law ignored women's right to self-determination, reproduction, and health, and did not view women as subjects of life.
On the other hand, some view the abolition of abortion law negatively. In particular, religious groups such as Catholics and Protestants, which value the life of the fetus, oppose the abolition of abortion law. In an article in the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC), bioethicist Choi Jinil said that The Constitutional Nonconformity Decision on Abortion resulted in neglecting the right to life of the fetus itself by prioritizing the pregnant woman's right to self-determination, which leads to a violation of the state's obligation to protect the right to life.
She also said, "The existence and role of the state-made abortion clause to protect the life of the fetus should have been reviewed more closely, and the legal principles to solve the problem should have been considered in balance between women's rights and the right to life of the fetus."
Discussion on the use of abortion terms
In Korea, there is also discussion over the use of the word abortion. The word abortion is widely used in Korea, “nak te” (낙태, 落胎) and “im-sin-jung-jeol” (임신중절, 姙娠中絶, termination). The word “nak te” has been commonly used since the 1980s. However, according to web site Brunch article, it is argued that this is a word that is more fetal-centered than mothers, and that there is a concern that it may create a negative image of abortion and attribute the cause to women using provocative meanings. Therefore, there is an opinion that the expression of “im-sin-jung-jeol”, which is used as an official name in medicine, should be actively used. In fact, the criminal law stipulates abortion as “nak te”, but the Mother and Child Health Act calls it “im-sin-jung-jeol”.
◆ The legalization of abortion abroad (Mexico and China)
○In the case of Mexico, which has the world's second-largest Catholic population, an anti-abortion law was also abolished in September. It is significant in that abortion was abolished to protect women's rights despite religious resistance. At the time, Mexican Supreme Court judge Arturo Zaldívar said, "Today is a historic day for all Mexican women's rights."
In an interview with CUF (The Catholic University Forum), an anonymous Mexican exchange student said, “I think most people from the young generation agree that abortion should be legal, and that woman should be able to make a decision on whatever concerns their body. On the other hand, the old generation are mostly against it. I think it is because they grew up in a country raised along with the Catholicism and for many times it has been thought as a sin in terms of religion.”
○Abortion is also not illegal in China, a country close to Korea. In China, it is interpreted that it does not form from the time a child is in the stomach but becomes a Chinese citizen by law after it comes out of the stomach. According to an article in the JoongAng Ilbo, China stipulates the rights of abortion for women as well as the full legalization of abortion.
In an interview with CUF, an anonymous Chinese exchange student said that women in China are considered more precious than fetuses, and that China does not value fertility rates because it has a large population. In addition, she said, “In China, contraception is not well promoted and publicized, so there are many accidental pregnancies and abortions.”
In Korea, detailed laws related to abortion have not been enacted, so there is still something to be solved. CUF hope that the balance between women's rights and the right to life of the fetus will be well considered and a realistic and practical bill that reflects what the people really want will be created.