The constitutional court’s historic ruling last year that abortions should not be criminalized didn’t end the contentious debate.
Under the ruling, the country has until the end of 2020 to revise its 1953 law on terminating pregnancies. The government has introduced an amendment that doesn’t repeal the ban on abortion completely, but revises parts of the Criminal Act and the Mother and Child Health Act to allow terminations up to 14 weeks, and up to 24 weeks provided that there are medical or socio-economic reasons approved by the doctor.
But this plan has been sharply criticized by both pro-choice and pro-life activists, who for neither completely banning nor completely approving abortion.
With just weeks before the law is changed for years and perhaps decades to come, we discuss how the conversation should move forward. I’m joined by CHO Hee-kyong, Professor of Law at Hongik University and John McGuire, Professor of International Studies at Hanyang University in Seoul.
Prof. Cho: In the amendment introduced by the government, women can terminate their pregnancies without providing a reason up to 14 weeks into the pregnancy, and up to 24 weeks under certain socio-economic circumstances. This has failed to satisfy either side of the debate. But isn’t it still a win for pro-choice why are they dissatisfied? What are the lingering concerns for both sides?
Prof. McGuire: Do you think it will resolve any of the concerns or demands coming from either side of the debate?
Also, South Korea allowing terminations as late as 24 weeks into the pregnancy seems like a big step, compared to the 10-to-12 week period allowed in European countries what are your thoughts on this is this enough?
Prof. Cho: The biggest reason for abortion in Korea is socio-economic circumstances. The government will allow women in their 15th to 24th weeks of pregnancy to undergo abortion if they have substantial socio-economic reasons for doing so. Does this provide enough clarity, or could this be abused, as many fear?
Prof. Cho: Banning unauthorised abortions clearly hasn’t led to a decline in the numbers of women terminating their pregnancies in South Korea.
What has been the result of criminalising abortion and the doctors who carry out these procedures?
Prof. McGuire: Abortion isn’t restricted or criminalised by law in Canada, and regulating abortion as a healthcare service has not led to higher abortion rates. What can South Korea and other countries learn from this?
Prof. McGuire: The debate over rights has continued for as long as we can remember, and it’s hard to draw the line between the right to choose and the right to life. In your article published in 2018, you said that the debate should no longer be centered on ideology. How has the debate on rights failed us?
Prof. McGuire: How should society break the deadlock and move forward realistically? Are there any examples we can go by, such as having a system in place to sufficiently consult and inform women about termination before they proceed?
Prof. Cho: How should the details be fine-tuned over the weeks to come what should we be focusing on, and what kind of safeguards are needed?
This is where we’ll have to wrap up the discussion. Hopefully, the debate will no longer be zero sum but move forward to something more productive.
That was Cho Hee-kyong, Professor of Law at Hongik University and John McGuire, Professor of International Studies at Hanyang University in Seoul.