Newsflash: Korean Doctor Sent to Jail for Performing Abortion, Korean Woman Fined for Planning to Have One

( Source: Dramabeans )

Yes, those really did happen in the last couple of months.

Perhaps it was naive of me to be so shocked and surprised however? After all, according to the Korea Herald, “about 30 [doctors] have been brought to the court over the past 5 years, mostly resulting in probation or fines”, so presumably this latest case technically isn’t the first time a Korean doctor has been incarcerated for performing an abortion (for 1 year, with probation for 2 years). And then the Lee Myung-bak Administration did signal it would begin enforcing Korea’s long-ignored abortion laws over a year ago too, in a vain and wholly misguided effort to increase the record-low birthrate, so prosecutions had to emerge sooner or later.

Still, I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the first time a pregnant woman has been fined for just planning an abortion, and according to the law she could even face having her baby in jail herself if she tries again. And the fact that she was charged as a result of her husband informing the police? It sounds positively Dickensian.

Seriously, is he physically confining her to their home as I type this? Is she still allowed to divorce him, or has she been stripped of that right too?

My second surprise was that, yet again, I didn’t actually learn of this important news via any English-language media, but rather via the following humble-looking video passed on to me by a Facebook friend, who in turn found it via her friend Heejung Paik of Gwangju Womenlink (광주여성민우회). Simply a very brief overview of Korean’s draconian abortion laws in the global context rather than a discussion of the cases themselves though, I’ve just translated those parts relevant to Korea below:

From 0:21-0:39:

2010년 3월, 멕시코 165명의 여성 낙태로 수감중

멕시코 구아나후아토주 여성, 최대 35년형 낙태로 선고

2010년 9월, 한국의사 낙태시술로 징역 1년 선고

In March of 2010, in Mexico 165 women were incarcerated for having abortions.

One of those women, in the state of Guanajuato, got the maximum sentence of 35 years.

In September of 2010, a Korean doctor was sentenced to 1 year in jail for performing an abortion.

Next, two visuals from 1:04-1:20 (apologies for the poor quality):

On the left:

Estimated number of abortions performed annually (in brackets, the number of 15-44 year-old women out of 1000 that had abortions)

Married: 198,000 (28.6/1000)

Unmarried: 144,000 (31.6/1000)

Source: Ministry of Welfare and Family Affairs (2005; now defunct)

On the right:

Out of 342,433 abortions,  4.4% (or 14,939) were legal, and 95.6% (or 327,494) were illegal.

Estimation based on 2005 survey of 201 abortion clinics, and 2004 health insurance records of legal abortions.

Source: Ministry of Social Welfare

From 1:50-1:58:

유교적인 조선시대에서조차 낙태한 여성이 처벌받은 기록이 없다

Even in the Confucian Joseon Dynasty there is no record of any punishment for abortion

( Source )

From 2:17-2:35:

강간, 근친 상간 또는 임부의 건강 보호를 이유로만 낙태가 가능한 나라 (멕시코, 브라질, 수단, 대한민국 등 17개국)

한국보다 낮은 등급의 국가는 전체의 약 27%에 불과하며,

이란, 아프가니스탄, 리비아 등의 국가가 속해있다.

현재 OECD 국가 20개 중 한국보다 낙태시술이 어려운 나라는 단  2개국뿐이다.

There are 17 countries that allow abortion only in the case of rape, incest and if the health of mother is threatened (Mexico, Brazil, Sudan, South Korea, and so on)

Altogether, only 27% of countries provide less abortion rights than Korea, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Libya.

At present, out of the 20 countries in the OECD, there are only 2 in which it is more difficult to obtain an abortion than Korea.

Finally, from 3:09-3:16:

2010년 10월, 한국에서는 낙태를 한 여성이 남편의 고발로 검찰에 기소되어 벌금형을 선고 받았다.

In October 2010, a Korean woman was fined after her husband informed the police of her intention to have an abortion.

( Source )

And on that note, apologies for not providing details about the cases myself in this post, but as I finishing typing this at 1:30am (albeit with a final edit over a coffee 9 hours later) then my translations of Korean articles on those will have to wait until later this weekend sometime next week I’m afraid. Hence the “newsflash” in the title!

Until then though, is anyone aware of any English-language articles on them that I may have missed? And how do you personally feel about the news?


12 thoughts on “Newsflash: Korean Doctor Sent to Jail for Performing Abortion, Korean Woman Fined for Planning to Have One

  1. I think it’s absolute, total bs. The last thing you want when you have an increasingly older population is an influx of unwanted babies. Way to put even more of a strain on the social welfare system. Besides, women who are forced to have babies they can’t/don’t want to provide for are statistically unlikely to raise children who will end up with high salaries, supporting the older generations.

    Personally, I dislike abortion, and I would be very upset if I were in a circumstance that made me feel I needed to have one. I’m sure most women feel the same way. If the government is serious about wanting to increase the birthrate (which I’m honestly not sure is the right answer; Korea’s plenty populated enough), then they need to do what you’ve suggested before, James: incentivize having babies by making it a feasible life choice. The government needs to be providing free education, childcare, and ensured paid maternity AND paternity leave. The worst thing you could do is to force people who don’t WANT to be parents into raising a child. :(


    1. All agreed of course, but for one minor point: raising the birthrate is not so much necessary to maintain a population, but more to ensure the demographic mix provides enough young workers to provide the taxes to pay for the welfare and health etc. of the non-working elderly. So although it would be good for Korea’s population to go down in the long run, not least for environmental reasons, having a disproportionately large number of elderly people is a financially crippling way to go about it.

      (Sorry if you knew all that already though!^^)


    2. Besides, women who are forced to have babies they can’t/don’t want to provide for are statistically unlikely to raise children who will end up with high salaries, supporting the older generations.

      I’d like to come back to this in future discussions with pro-life people. Do you have any sources for this so I can look it up myself?


    3. I’m going to write something about this again… it’s going to be relatively short for a topic like this. And please read it before you judge me.

      I think it’s wrong to judge people for performing it or for wanting it.
      I don’t know how society in Korea looks at it, but I don’t think it’s an atmosphere of support so I don’t think it’s an easy choice to make by any standard.

      Also the article about the woman reminds me of something. Maybe you posted it before?

      It’s an article about men using pregnancy to tie women to them. I think everyone is kind of familiar with the story of a woman becoming pregnant to make sure a man doesn’t leave them. But there seems to be an equal tendency among abusive men to get their wife/girlfriend “accidentally” pregnant. I tried googling for it, but I can’t seem to find the exact article.

      In a case such as this where it’s basically rape and a lot of other things that are just as wrong. I’m not saying this man reported his wife because she was impregnated for similar reasons though. I have no idea about their relationship and I don’t want to make any judgement calls on the limited info given.

      Also I would be curious to know all the facts of the doctor who performed the abortion. When was the pregnancy aborted etc.

      But I think it can be taken for granted that the doctor acted with consent. So I don’t think it was the right thing to convict him. Al though he didn’t obey the law. But then again if his personal beliefs don’t coincide with this law then I can understand that he thinks it’s an immoral law.

      It’s such a minefield. Is a fetus a person? etc. When and for what reasons.

      It’s the governments responsibility to guard the rights of it’s population.
      The woman has the right to say what happens to her own body / life.
      The fetus might have a right to live. Which right supersedes the other?

      The government should try to find a way in which both rights are guarded.
      It’s the government’s role to inform and support the decisions made and to make sure the decision isn’t one taken lightly. If needed to provide the child a new home and to make sure the woman isn’t financially burdened. If you can pay for a prison cell then you can probably pay for a woman’s medical costs as well. If however she chose to still abort given all information and a viable alternative. Then it’s the states duty to make sure this can be done in a sanitary situation etc. But yeah… easy to say I guess. And if it would solve any problems…

      Sigh, too complicated. It’s so easy to say or think something about it.
      But it’s not always easy to justify your beliefs properly. Especially considering the subject matter.


  2. According to Naver’s dictionary, no doctor got jail time. Here’s the difference in how suspended sentences and jail time with probation is rendered:

    그는 징역 1년에 집행 유예 2년을 선고받았다.
    그는 징역 1년, 집행 유예 2년을 선고받았다.

    He was sentenced to one year in prison suspended for two years.
    He was sentenced to one year in prison and two years probation.

    If there’s a comma, it’s a jail term and probation; if there’s no comma and the ‘에’ tagged onto the jail sentence, it’s a suspended sentence. Or so says the dictionary.

    So, in the Ulsan case in September the doctor received a 6 month sentence suspended for 1 year, and in the Suwon case the doctor got a 1 year sentence suspended for two years, while the manager of the clinic got a 2 and a half year sentence.


    1. Thanks: my bad for only skimming the article, and especially so late at night. And that distinction you made certainly helps clear up some confusion I had as I translate the article (about half-way done now): I should have bookmarked that brief post you wrote about it recently!

      As the doctor’s case is not quite as groundbreaking as I though then, I’m going to look for more information on the woman too. Do you think there’s any precedent for her own “crime”?


      1. James,

        I’m not sure if there’s any precedent for her crime or not. It’s not something I’ve looked into, so I’ll be interested to see what turns up.

        What annoys me most about this is the fact that abortion has always been illegal, but allowed (don’t get me wrong – I am pro-choice). This tendency in Korea to make something illegal but not enforce the law has allowed huge abortion and prostitution industries to grow, and it’s ridiculous that, on a whim, the government suddenly decides to start enforcing it. The same thing happened in the 70s (as I’ve been researching) when the government decided to enforce marijuana laws (which had only been enforced near U.S. bases) which most people didn’t even know existed, and used this to attack ‘degenerate’ youth culture and wipe out the rock and folk music scenes. Using what are usually unenforced laws in such ways is nothing new, unfortunately.


    2. I’m confused. For me it reads as going to jail for 1 year 2 years from now. And the other one going to jail for 1 year followed by not being allowed to practice his profession for 2 years.

      How does it work with suspension?

      I think in the Netherlands it’s possible that you don’t go to jail immediately if you’re not a threat to society. Weird as it may sound.


  3. There must be something very wrong if so many married women get abortions ! These are no teen pregnancies or happy hour aftermaths!

    I know unwanted pregnancies happen in married couples too, but these women are supposed to be mature and responsible enough that if they hate a husband, unable to afford a baby, or just don’t want a pregnancy they have the means to avoid it.

    Has anyone some insight here?


  4. I think the same atmosphere that restricts women’s rights over their own bodies (draconian anti-abortion laws) is the same atmosphere that makes women reluctant to want to have children–an overall unfriendly atmosphere that doesn’t encourage women to be full people. :/

    It would take a really simplistic, paternal, authoritarian mindset to think that punishing abortions would improve the birthrate.


  5. (I’ll go ahead and ring in from the opposite end of the spectrum on abortion rights here in that I favor an almost completely unrestricted right to abortion)

    If Korea want’s to raise its birthrate, it needs more gender equality. If a woman has to chose between their job and a child . . . well, you can live a happy, fulfilled life without a child. While it may not help on a societal level, on an individual level for most women, reproduction in Korea is a major burden that will fundamentally restrict the rest of their lives. You’re out of a career, can’t depend on much daily support from your husband beyond the financial, and basically SOL.

    If you’re unmarried, it’s worse. First, you’re likely functioning on an entirely inadequate understanding of the very basics of sexuality and reproduction. Then, you’ll be shamed for seeking out birth control, because society thinks you shouldn’t be sexually active and your partner will think you’re slutty. Medical institutions will scare you out of safe, discrete methods of birth control. And yet, if you do get knocked up, you are going to be even worse off . . . so what to do?

    This is the perfect storm. Under these conditions, abortion is an entirely rational personal decision. But like plastic surgery in Korea, what makes for an individually beneficial decision is bad for society. Unlike plastic surgery, there are some clear steps that can be taken to ease the need women have for the procedure . . . but Korea won’t take them.


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