Abortion is illegal in South Korea. That fact drew scores of women to protest in the capital city of Seoul this August. Their demonstration took a dramatic turn when 125 women simultaneously took pills meant to represent abortion-inducing medication.
While the protestors’ intention was to call for legal abortion, what they really drew attention to was the ineffectiveness of South Korea’s abortion laws.
The number of women is significant: Every hour, 125 women in South Korea get abortions, despite the fact that it is illegal. While Life Site news is reporting 125 women took the abortion-inducing Mifegyne, and another 30 protestors took vitamins, other sources question those numbers, saying that event announcements say only one protestor took Mifegyne and all the other participants were given vitamins.
Prior to taking the pills, the protestors read a statement that called for the repeal of the country’s abortion laws. The statement read that “abortion is not taboo or sin” and that women are punished when abortion is linked to promiscuity and single women. “Abortion is the most commonly performed surgery in the world and normal women choose to get abortions for various reasons,” the protestors stated. They also called the ban on abortion an infringement on “a basic right for women.”
Despite Being Illegal, Abortion in South Korea Is Frequently Performed
Abortion has been outlawed in South Korea since 1953. Exceptions for rape, incest and severe genetic disorders were put in place in 1973. Currently, those who help administer illegal abortions can technically be punished with a prison sentence of up to two years.
Despite this threat, however, illegal abortions are performed frequently. An article from the Economist reports a 2005 government study estimated that 44 percent of pregnancies in South Korea are aborted. Abortions are even performed in hospitals and clinics—meaning authorities often turn a blind eye. And as this demonstration shows, Mifegyne is easy enough to come by.
The government is attempting to crack down on the laissez-faire approach to abortion many doctors seem to adopt, however. On August 17, 2018, the Ministry of Health and Welfare issued a revised Medical Act, which calls surgical abortions an unethical medical practice, on par with sexual abuse, using unauthorized medicine, reusing single-use devices and ghost surgery (one doctor substituting for another without the patient’s knowledge). Under the revised Medical Act, those who perform abortions would be suspended for one month. However, one-month suspensions have not been enforced yet due to the immediate and vehement backlash that sprung from medical professionals.
Some claim the government’s renewed interest in enforcing the law is due to concern over the nation’s drop in fertility rate. “The government has made it more difficult for women to have an abortion to raise the nation’s fertility rate,” a group of medical professionals wrote concerning the revised Medical Act. “Doctors have taken women’s health and life as a hostage for their own benefits.”
The Pro-Life Movement in South Korea
Despite the protests, the pro-life movement is alive and well in South Korea. In fact, Rev. Jong-rak Lee, a pastor in Seoul, created the “Drop Box” to save babies who might otherwise be discarded by single mothers or parents who couldn’t bring themselves to raise a child with disabilities. There is even a film about Pastor Lee, whose idea spurred other countries to adopt the practice of allowing people to “drop” babies practically anonymously.
Life site news reports that since the Drop Box was installed in 2009, as many as 18 babies a month have arrived. Pastor Lee and his wife keep a lot of the babies in an orphanage they run out of their home.
Earlier this year, Ireland took a sharp turn from its Catholic history and culture by reversing a decades-long ban on abortion. The question remains what South Korea will do. But for now, there is hope in the example of Pastor Lee and other believers who see the value and sanctity of life.