President Moon's office opens floodgate to active debate on abortion

By Lim Chang-won Posted : November 27, 2017, 13:59 Updated : November 27, 2017, 13:59

[The Presidential Blue House YouTube channel]


President Moon Jae-in's office opened the floodgate to active social and legal debate over whether South Korea should legalize artificial abortion, responding to a petition about the controversial issue that sparked strong opposition, especially from the Roman Catholic Church.

A long-awaited answer came on Sunday from Cho Kuk, a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, who said the government would resume a survey on abortion next year before launching a public hearing based on its outcome.

The survey, which had been conducted every five years, stopped in 2010 when the government launched a crackdown as part of a campaign to tackle a low birthrate. Various incentives have been offered to have more children, but many women want to hold onto their career, leading them to delay marriage and have children late.

"The current legal system holds only women legally accountable, while the state and men are completely free from responsibility," Cho said in a statement in response to a petition calling for the legitimation of abortion and drugs used for miscarriage. The petition drew more than 200,000 endorsors in a month.

Cho said the system has caused various negative effects such as illegal, dangerous and expensive operations. The law allows abortions for victims of rape or incest, women whose health is at risk, cases where the fetus is suspected of having a genetic disorder, and pregnant women or their spouses who suffer from communicable or hereditary diseases.

Women who have Illegal operations can receive a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to two million won (1,830 US dollars), while doctors can be jailed for up to two years.

In addition to women's right to self-determination, debate should be made to see if women's right to life or health in operations has been violated, Cho said. The petition insisted South Korea should allow the sale of drugs used to induce spontaneous abortions to prevent unwanted birth. Cho said social and legal discussions should come first.

The law prohibiting abortion under normal circumstances has largely been unenforced. Government data, based on a 2010 survey, showed that of 16,900 cases of abortion, legal operations accounted for six percent. An association of obstetricians said the actual number of abortions would be far higher.

Equal rights groups and opponents are largely positive about a survey but they voiced concern about its effectiveness as women are reluctant to talk about abortions.

Cho's statement sparked a heated debate online. "No one has any rights to determine who lives and who doesn't. It's something that only God can control," said Chazel, a user at South Korea's web portal Daum.

Supporters of the petition insisted the choice of women should be respected. "An unwanted baby is a disaster. Sometimes it's better to be not born if the baby won't get any proper love," Junrimin, another Daum user, commented.

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