Feminism is taking the spotlight in the world stage when it comes to social issues, and one of the most hotly-debated topics is the issue of women’s reproductive rights. The world trend right now is debating the point at which when a fetus should be considered autonomous life.
However, Korea is behind the trend by almost ten years by refusing to leave the debate on whether abortions should be allowed in the first place. Currently, Korea considers women who receive abortion and the doctors who perform them as criminals in the eyes of the law.
Before the new developments in abortion law, the penalty for performing an abortion not allowed by law was the closure of the facility in question for one month, but the doctors could file an appeal discussing the necessity of the procedure or any other details that could be brought before a judge for a decision. However, under new laws, doctors who are accused of performing abortions can have their facilities immediately shut down without trial.
Recently, the Association of OB-GYNs has announced that they will halt all abortion procedures. Doctors protested the fact that they could be shut down immediately for a month, regardless of the situation, and how they would be stigmatized under law for performing an immoral action against a patient, falling under the same category as committing sexual assault against a client. The association has said that the halting of abortion procedures is a protest against the Ministry of Health and Welfare which were responsible for these new laws, as a way of putting all responsibility for the negative effects of the law on the ministry.
In theory, the protest and subsequent halting of abortion procedures is a way to force the Ministry of Health and Welfare to face their actions and see the consequences of their archaic thought process regarding women’s health and reproductive rights. However, the main victims in all of these proceedings remains the women who need abortions, especially those who are young or have little money. However noble the intentions of the Association of OB-GYNs, doctors face no repercussions while women are being used as a sort of sacrifice to possibly prove a point to the government.
Even if the negative effects of banning abortion become clear, it is unlikely that the Korean government will accept any responsibility based on their previous actions. The government has a history of putting the responsibility of childbirth solely on women, as demonstrated by the official government website put up by the Ministry of the Interior in 2016, which effectively blamed women for the country’s falling birthrates and aimed to show how many women could have children depending on age and the areas they lived in. This website was taken down after criticism detailing how it views women as merely reproductive tools, but the fact remains that the government still views childbirth as a societal responsibility solely on women.
Korea is one of the only first world countries with a blanket ban on abortions. The only time abortions are allowed legally are in cases of rape, incest, or genetic disorders in the fetus. However, it is clear that these categories are not representative of the needs of women seeing as diseases such as Down Syndrome does not fall under genetic disorder. In the end, there is no such thing as a guaranteed effectiveness of birth control and women wanting to terminate pregnancies will always exist, no matter how much the government closes its ears to their needs. This issue is not only about women, but about the children of the future that are brought into the world because of these policies. I would not expect much from the government given their track record, but that means the role of feminists and civil rights groups is more crucial than ever.