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Justice Ministry takes heat for abortion stance

June 07,2018
The culture wars that consumed American society in the 1990s seems to have landed in Korea, with value-driven issues such as gay marriage and abortion proving to be hot button issues.

Korea’s Ministry of Justice is no stranger to controversy, being the center of debate in a conflict over investigative prerogatives between the national police and prosecutors. But even weathered Korean justice officials have little experience when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality, as such issues have been customarily overlooked in Korea’s relatively conservative society.

A lack of familiarity with gender cases has put the ministry in hot water recently, after the Christian Broadcasting System’s NoCut News produced a Justice Ministry report that characterized women wanting abortions in a negative light. The report labeled women wanting abortions as “having sexual intercourse but unwilling to deal with its results of pregnancy or childbirth.”

The report was written to represent the ministry’s defense of the ban on abortion, which is currently under review by the Constitutional Court of Korea for its legality. In August 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld the criminalization of abortion after a four-to-four tie vote. To overturn the law, a two-thirds vote is necessary.

The Justice Ministry’s report attempted to frame the issue as a matter of life versus a woman’s right to choose, mirroring the famous Roe v. Wade case in the United States. It has been criticized by advocacy groups for women’s rights for its logical deficiencies.

“Regular pregnancy is caused by sexual intercourse between a man and a woman,” the report read. “Therefore consensual sexual intercourse indicates an awareness of the pregnancy that may result, which cannot be seen as unwanted.”

The report was retracted on May 29 by the ministry after it generated heavy polemic.

The Constitutional Court is set to rule on the abortion ban within the next two or three months. Given that six of the court’s current justices have gone on record advocating a change in the current ban - the number required for its overruling - the ban is likely to be scrapped or modified. However, some analysts point out that the court generally makes conservative decisions.

The ministry found itself mired in another controversy when a gay British man married to a Korean partner in Canada sent a petition to President Moon Jae-in requesting marriage migrant visas for gay couples who have been legally wedded abroad. The Blue House sent the request to the Ministry of Justice, but it was turned down on the grounds that gay marriage remains illegal in Korea.

Opposition to gay marriage remains strong in Korea. In a Gallup Korea poll conducted in May 2017, 58 percent of respondents said they were against legalizing same-sex unions versus 34 percent who said they were in favor.

Nonetheless, perceptions of homosexuality at large appear to be relaxing, with 56 percent of respondents in the same survey acknowledging it as a form of love.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]