Sun, Apr 21, 2019 - Page 7 News List

S Korea battles abortion stigma despite ruling

The government has been ordered to legalize abortion, but because of the country’s traditional, patriarchal views, it is still seen as something that only ‘single, naughty girls’ would do

By Beth Lih Yi  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

However, campaigners have said that the ban has driven women to turn to black-market abortion drugs, and pushed the cost of surgical abortion prohibitively high with the fees for a late-term termination averaging about US$5,000.

In many cases, women must also give a written promise that they will not implicate the doctor.

The constitutional court challenge stemmed from the case of a doctor who was charged with conducting nearly 70 illegal abortions.

Beyond the Catholic Church, some of the world’s largest megachurches and church-affiliated groups in South Korea have led the protest against making abortion legal.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea has said that the ruling denies embryos’ rights to life, while a group calling itself the National Alliance Against Abolition of Abortion decried the procedure as an “act of murder.”

The issue is divisive among the medical community, too.

Gynecologist Yoon Jung-won, who has conducted hundreds of abortions for rape survivors, said that some doctors have called for the right to not perform the procedure after the court lifted the ban.

“Some doctors don’t want to perform abortion simply because it is a stigmatized job. It’ll take time and effort,” said Yoon, who works in a private hospital in Seoul that specializes in sexual assault cases.

“Law and policy change is the first [step] — culture and social change is the last and the most difficult one,” Yoon said.

At the hospital where she works, Yoon has had to turn away many women over the years — from teenage girls who become pregnant to women who feel they are too poor for another child, or those who are trapped in an abusive relationship.

The government has said that it would respect the court’s decision and take steps to comply, but some campaigners such as Woo fear next year’s deadline will give religious groups time to lobby for restrictions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a Catholic and a liberal, has not stated clearly if he supports abortion, but has called for more discussions to build consensus.

Ryu Min-hee, a lawyer in the legal team that mounted the successful court challenge, said that the onus is now on the government to ensure abortions are accessible to women and doctors are adequately trained.

“It’s the government’s duty to implement the ruling,” Ryu said. “It’s not a crime, it’s women’s rights.”

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