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A landmark ruling

Apr 12,2019
On Thursday, the Constitutional Court ruled that the ban on abortions is unconstitutional. The top court also ruled that an abortion within 22 weeks of pregnancy will be allowed, requesting that related laws be revised by the end of 2020 to match the ruling. In consideration of the social repercussions, the court chose to leave current abortion laws intact for a limited period of time instead of immediately abolishing them.

As a result of the dramatic turnaround, the National Assembly is required to revise laws on abortions. If the legislature fails to amend them by the deadline, laws making abortion a crime will be automatically repealed. The Constitutional Court reversed its own ruling from seven years ago. The 7-to-2 verdict reflects the current ideological composition of the nine justices.
The court said that our abortion laws limited women’s right to self-determination because they could not minimize the infringement of their right to choose. The court also based its ruling on our abortion laws’ over-concentration on the protection of a fetus. The dramatic ruling translates into a victory of pro-choice over pro-life in the two camps’ long battle.

The ruling was immediately welcomed by women’s rights advocacy groups who have long attacked abortion laws as a violation of their right to self-determination, health and life. After the launch of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration two years ago, 230,000 men and women joined an online petition to the Blue House to get rid of the laws criminalizing abortion. The medical community also applauded the court’s ruling.

The ball is in the court of legislators. Despite the need to revise criminal and other laws, our lawmakers mostly did not pay heed to the issue, except for the Justice Party. Concrete discussions on the details have just begun. In France, Denmark, Austria and Norway, abortion is legal as long as women request it within 12 weeks of their pregnancies. In Britain, abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy is possible with two doctors’ consent. But Korea faces many complicated issues, including whether to allow abortion to be covered by the National Health Insurance and the need for public education on contraception use.

Despite our religious community’s strong opposition to the ruling, decriminalizing abortion is a global trend. Some surveys show that countries that allow abortions have higher fertility rates. We hope the ruling helps pave the way to a more gender-equal society.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 12, Page 30