Majority of S. Korean women support decriminalization of abortion

Posted on : 2019-02-17 15:26 KST Modified on : 2019-02-17 15:26 KST
Experts argue current legislations puts risk women at risking of harming their own health
Survey on pregnancy termination
Survey on pregnancy termination

Survey results show that seven-and-a-half out of ten South Korean women aged 15 to 44 think Articles 269 and 270 (crime of abortion) of the Criminal Act, which punish women and medical professionals for abortion, should be amended. As reasons, they cited the unfairness of punishing only women and without addressing the unsafe environment that women are exposed to as a result of punishments for abortion. Two out of ten women who had been pregnant in the past reported terminating at least one pregnancy, with respondents saying they needed information at the time about the medical institutions where abortions could be performed, along with associated costs, side effects, and aftereffects.

The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) published findings on Feb. 14 from a survey conducted at the behest of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) on current conditions in pregnancy termination. The first such survey in the seven years since 2011, it was conducted in the form of an online questionnaire completed by 10,000 women aged 15 to 44 between Sept. 20 and Oct. 30, 2018. The Blue House announced plans for the survey in Nov. 2017 after the number of participants on a citizens’ petition for decriminalization of abortion and legalization of miscarriage-inducing medications exceeded 200,000 names. The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of criminal court provisions punishing women and medical professionals involved in abortion.

Of the 10,000 survey participants, 3,792 (38%) reported having been pregnant in the past, while 756 of those – representing 19.9% of all respondents who had experienced pregnancy – reported having undergone pregnancy termination. Based on these figures, the researchers estimated a total of around 50,000 abortion procedures performed in South Korea in 2017, representing a major decrease from the estimated 168,738 performed in 2010.

“The contraception rate has increased, with condom use rising from 37.5% in 2011 to 74.2% last year, while the number of emergency [after-the-fact] contraception prescriptions has increased and the population of women aged 15–44 has decreased,” explained KIHASA research fellow Lee So-young.

But experts also said the number could have been undercounted, given the strongly negative attitudes toward abortion in South Korean society. Some suggested an exhaustive survey of OB/GYN physicians should be considered to obtain a more accurate picture, with assurances that the doctors in question will not be punished.

Current law prohibits terminating pregnancies for socioeconomic reasons

Estimated number of abortions and rate of terminated pregnancies
Estimated number of abortions and rate of terminated pregnancies

The most common reasons given by respondents for terminating pregnancies were the potential negative effects on their academic or professional prospects (33.4%, multiple responses allowed), inability to care for a child economically (32.9%), and lack of desire for a child or family planning efforts such as age difference coordination (31.2%). According to current law, pregnancy termination on the basis of socioeconomic reasons such as these is illegal. The Mother and Child Health Act permits abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy on only a very limited range of grounds including eugenic/genetic mental disability or physical disease and impregnation by rape or quasi-rape, while requiring the consent of the woman herself and her spouse. The survey results showed 48.9% of respondents arguing the act was in need of amendment.

Of the 756 respondents who had had abortions, 682 (90.2%) reported undergoing an operation, while 74 (9.8%) reported using Mifegyne or another medication to induce miscarriage or uterine contraction. Fifty-three of the 74 who had used medications reported undergoing additional medical procedures at a healthcare institution.

“Since it’s illegal at the moment to terminate a pregnancy with medications such as Mifegyne, there is a risk of [women] harming their own health by illicitly using unverified medications or failing to receive instruction on the proper dosage,” said Yoon Jeong-won, women’s committee director for the Association of Physicians for Humanism.

In a position statement the same day, the group Collective Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion for All said, “Because of the decriminalization of pregnancy termination, women are experiencing serious difficulties accessing healthcare institutions and receiving medical information.”

“Decriminalization of abortion would not only be a declaration that no one can judge the wish the end a pregnancy, but also contribute ultimately to lowering the rate of pregnancy termination,” the group argued.

By Park Hyun-jung and Park Da-hae, staff reporters

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