Abortion in South Korea

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Abortion in South Korea is illegal in most circumstances, but illegal abortions are widespread[1][2] and commonly performed at hospitals and clinics.[3] However, the Constitutional Court on 11 April 2019 ruled the abortion law unconstitutional and ordered the law's revision by the end of 2020.[2] [4]

Sex-selective abortion, attributed to a cultural preference for sons, is widespread.[5] Despite a 1987 revision of the Medical Code prohibiting physicians from using prenatal testing to reveal the sex of the child, the ratio of boys to girls at birth continued to climb through the 1990s. The 1987 law was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2008.[6]


The government of South Korea criminalized abortion in the 1953 Criminal Code in all circumstances. The law was amended by the Maternal and Child Health Law of 1973 to permit a physician to perform an abortion if the pregnant woman or her spouse suffers from certain hereditary or communicable diseases, if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, or if continuing the pregnancy would jeopardize the woman's health. Any physician who violated the law could be punished by two years' imprisonment. Self-induced abortions could be punished by a fine or imprisonment.[7][8]

The abortion law was not strongly enforced, especially during campaigns to lower South Korea's high fertility rate in the 1970s and 1980s. As the fertility rate dropped in the 2000s, the government and anti-abortion campaigners turned their attention to illegal abortions[5][8] and the government stepped up enforcement of the abortion law in response.[9] Nonetheless, few women or physicians have been prosecuted under the law.[10]

Much of the ensuing debate has focused on whether the government should crack down on illegal abortions, and whether the law should be modified.[6][8] In September 2017, campaigners filed a petition on the website of Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, calling on the government to amend the law by permitting the sale of the abortion pill mifepristone.[9] In November 2017, the office of the president announced in response that the government would review the abortion law.[11] In 2018, the Constitutional Court heard a case which challenged the constitutionality of the abortion law.[10][12] The court's ruling was delayed until court vacancies were filled.[13] The Constitutional Court on 11 April 2019 ruled the abortion law unconstitutional and ordered the law's revision by the end of 2020.[2]

Abortion rate[edit]

Using a 2005 survey of 25 hospitals and 176 private clinics, one study estimated that 342,433 induced abortions were performed that year, which would imply an abortion rate of 29.8 abortions per 1000 women aged 15–44. The rate was higher among single women than among married women.[14] The Ministry of Health and Welfare estimated that 169,000 induced abortions were performed in 2010. Other researchers, including Park Myung-bae of Pai Chai University, estimate that there may be as many as 500,000[10] or 1 million abortions per year.[8][15]


  1. ^ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47890065
  2. ^ a b c "S Korea must end abortion ban - court". 2019-04-11. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  3. ^ "How to make abortion rarer". The Economist. 3 December 2016. Retrieved 25 December 2017.
  4. ^ Case 2017-127. Text: https://ecourt.ccourt.go.kr/coelec/websquare/websquare.html?w2xPath=/ui/coelec/dta/casesrch/EP4100_M01.xml&eventno=2017%ED%97%8C%EB%B0%94127
  5. ^ a b Choe, Sang-Hun (5 January 2010). "South Korea Confronts Open Secret of Abortion". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b Wolman, Andrew (2010). "Abortion in Korea: A Human Rights Perspective on the Current Debate Over Enforcement of the Laws Prohibiting Abortion". Journal of International Business and Law. 9 (1).
  7. ^ "Republic of Korea". Abortion Policies: A Global Review (DOC). 2. United Nations Population Division. 2002. Retrieved 25 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Sung, Woong Kyu (1 December 2012). "Abortion in South Korea: The Law and the Reality". International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family. 26 (3): 278–305. doi:10.1093/lawfam/ebs011.
  9. ^ a b "A campaign to legalise abortion is gaining ground in South Korea". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Rich, Motoko (13 January 2018). "Push to End South Korea Abortion Ban Gains Strength, and Signatures". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  11. ^ "South Korea to review whether or not to abolish anti-abortion law". Reuters. 26 November 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2017.
  12. ^ Lee, Claire (24 May 2018). "Abortion ban challenged at Supreme Court". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  13. ^ Haas, Benjamin (11 November 2018). "South Korea's nascent feminist movement turns to abortion ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  14. ^ Ahn, Hyeong Sik; Seol, Hyun-Joo; Lim, Ji-Eun; Hong, Sung-hee; Lee, Sun Young; Park, Moon-Il; Kim, Soon Duck; Kim, Hai-Joong (January 2012). "Estimates of induced abortion in South Korea: Health facilities survey". Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. 38 (1): 324–328. doi:10.1111/j.1447-0756.2011.01701.x. PMID 22136060.
  15. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/11/south-korean-court-rules-abortion-ban-must-be-lifted