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Blue House is open to changing abortion laws

Nov 28,2017
The Blue House announced Sunday that it is open to revision of abortion laws after thorough deliberation, in response to a popular online petition calling for abortion’s decriminalization.

Over 235,000 people signed the petition to legalize abortion and abortion pills after it was uploaded on the Blue House website on Sept. 30. According to the law, women who have abortions can be sentenced to a one-year jail term or fined up to 2 million won ($1,840), while medical staff who perform abortions can be sentenced to 2 years in prison. Korea’s laws on abortion have largely remained unchanged since they were introduced in 1953.

On Sunday, the Blue House posted a video on its website and various social media platforms to offer an optimistic response to the petition. It chose Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk, who supported the decriminalization of abortions as a university professor in 2013, to appear. Since coming to office, President Moon Jae-in requires relevant ministers and senior secretaries to give official response to petitions that receive more than 200,000 signatures on the Blue House petition page.

In the video, Cho said that the Moon administration is aware of the controversy and will be open to revision after assessing abortion trends and legal recommendations. “It is hard to advance the discussion with a zero-sum thinking that we only have to choose between the infant’s right to live and the woman’s decision-making right,” he stressed.

Cho said the government will conduct a nationwide survey in 2018 to determine the situation in Korea concerning abortions. The last such survey, conducted in 2010, revealed that out of 169,000 women who got abortions annually in Korea, only 6 percent, or 10,800, used lawful procedures. Korea is one of six Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member nations where abortion is illegal.

Cho also discussed a constitutional court ruling on the legality of abortion. A previous 2012 constitutional court ruling on whether abortion laws were violating the constitution ended in a standoff with an equal number of judges voting for and against. The judges who voted to keep the status quo explained, “Even though women’s right to decision-making may be violated due to the abortion law, the infants’ right to life is more important.”

Korea’s medical sector is divided on the issue of abortion. On Monday, the chairman of the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Korea’s leading academic institution on women’s health, released a statement saying he could not give “an official response” to Cho’s video.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, LEE GA-YOUNG AND KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]