South Korea Has Ruled Its 66-Year-Old Abortion Law Unconstitutional

Until recently, abortion carried little of the emotional or religious significance in South Korea that it does in many Western countries.

The historic decision has sparked celebrations in Seoul following decades of campaigning.

Thursday afternoon saw South Korea's Constitutional Court rule that a nationwide law that made abortion a crime was unconstitutional.

As per The New York Times, the South Korean Parliament now has until 2020 to amend the law. For now, the law is still in place, but if it's not changed by the deadline, it will become null and void.

The Parliament of South Korea will also now decide on other restrictions to abortion access, such as the cases in which it is deemed acceptable or what stage of pregnancies in which it is permitted. 

The Times reports that the court called the 66-year-old law "an unconstitutional restriction that violates a pregnant woman's right to choose." (Under the law, exceptions include cases of rape or if a woman's health is at risk.)

Currently, in South Korea, a woman who has an abortion could face up to a year in prison or be fined two million won, which is about $1,750. Doctors who perform abortions can also face up to two years in prison.

However, the law was known to be rarely enforced, and from 2012 to 2017, 80 women or doctors went to court due to being involved in abortion services with only one serving prison time.

A recent survey by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs found that more than 75% of women aged 15 to 44 believed the law should be amended.

In 2017, more than 230,000 people signed a petition to legalise abortion.

Authorities reportedly tolerated illegal terminations for decades after the ban was introduced, but began cracking down on terminations due to the country’s plunging birthrate. 

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