Earlier this month, activists rallied and marched in Seoul to demand an end to the laws that criminalized abortion in South Korea. Though the official crowd estimate was 1,500, organizers believe that over 5,000 people participated in the demonstration. Speakers included physicians, clergy, and young women who shared testimonies about their experiences struggling to end unwanted pregnancies or access reproductive information.
South Korea’s current law, originally passed in 1953, makes receiving abortion punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 2 million won (about $1,770). Physicians who perform the procedure could face even harsher punishments, serving up to two years in prison or losing their right to practice medicine.
Since 1973, another law has allowed for abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation in certain exceptional circumstances, including rape, incest, genetic impairment of the fetus, and endangerment of the health of the women. In addition, women must obtain their husband’s consent in order to undergo the procedure.
Yet abortion remains common in South Korea. “According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare,” write reporters Miliann Kang and Arum Yoon, “the estimated number of abortions in 2010, the most recent data available, was 169,000, which places Korea in the top 10 among OECD countries. Many researchers and advocates estimate that the actual rate is much higher, as much as 500,000 per year, which surpasses the number of births.”
The march, as well as a petition calling for an end to the abortion ban which circulated in late 2017 and received more than 235,000 signatures, suggest that individuals throughout South Korea are recognizing the need to change the antiquated law. South Korea’s Constitutional Court is reviewing the 1953 abortion ban.