South Korean Court Deems Anti-Abortion Law ‘Unconstitutional’

South Korean general strike in Seoul
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South Korea is calling for an amendment to an anti-abortion law after it was ruled that the 66-year-old legislation was “unconstitutional.” Currently, the law states that abortion is a crime and punishes those guilty with up to two years in prison, The New York Times reported. Parliament will now have until 2020 to revise the law, South Korea’s Constitutional Court states.

While abortion is banned in the country, cases of it are widespread with women facing up to a year in prison or a fine of around 2 million won – equivalent to about $1,750 – with doctors risking two years in jail. In 2017 alone, nearly 50,000 women underwent the procedure – around 94 percent were illegal – which represents a drop in figures in recent years. In 2005, there were an estimated 342,000 abortions performed across the country.

However, there are instances in which termination is allowed, such as during cases of rape or if the woman’s health is at risk.

Hundreds of protesters from both sides of the debate were separated by police as they gathered outside the court before the hearings. The latest development is a huge victory for abortion rights activists who have protested against the law.

Figures show that three-quarters of women aged between 15 and 44 support a repeal of the law, according to a government-led survey. This is a large step-up from only 52 percent being in favor in 2017, according to the BBC.

Currently, abortion does not carry a huge weight of significance. However, during the ’70s and ’80s, the government attempted to curtail population growth by telling families that “two children are one too many.”

South Korean president Moon Jae-in celebrating 100 years after Independence Movement Day
  Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

In February, women’s rights groups began fighting back against the law, calling out the South Korean government’s regulation on the right to choose.

“When there were too many people, they told us ‘not to produce babies’ in the name of family planning, and when they thought there were not enough people, they then told us ‘to produce babies’ or face punishment.”

There are also anti-abortion activists who have been pushing back against the campaign and reporting doctors who perform illegal terminations. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, said the church opposes the amendment, calling for South Korea to “protect women and fetuses from abortion.”

Despite the backlash and talks of changing the law, many are quick to point out the hypocrisy of a ban that is not enforced. Between 2012 and 2017, only 80 women and doctors were punished for breaking the law, most of whom were given fines or suspended jail time with only one being sent to prison.

President Moon Jae-in has yet to give a statement.