Resisting the Criminalization of Abortion in South Korea

(Source: ImpAwards)

Lee Myung-bak may be able to avoid the issue of abortion in the remaining years of his presidency, but this successor certainly won’t. Like Lindsay Lohan says, some stories do indeed keep on growing.

Not so much because Koreans feel strongly about abortion itself though. Rather, because this is the same president that immediately tried to abolish the (then) Ministry of Gender Equality for instance, despite campaign promises not to. And also, because a year later, he encouraged targeting women for mass layoffs as a solution to the financial crisis. Criminalizing abortion simply in order to increase the birthrate rate then, is really part and parcel of a wider mentality that is fundamentally failing to get to grips with women’s entrenched inequality here. And perhaps could come be the symbol and/or catalyst for later volatile protests about any number of related issues, much like those in 2008 were never really simply about imported beef.

Until then, following on from this earlier post about a video that alerted me to the fact that doctors were getting (suspended) sentences for performing abortions, I’ve translated the following article to give you more information about those. And in the process, I’ve confirmed commenter Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling’s point about it that no doctor mentioned actually had to spend any time in jail.

However, as you’ll see, the article does not appear to say that the manager of the gynecology clinic in Suwon also got a suspended sentence, which would presumably mean that in fact he or she at least did go to jail. Which seems just a little unfair and confusing, so if anyone with better Korean skills can please clarify, then that would be much appreciated!^^ (source, right)

잇따른낙태죄실형선고 부당해” “Continued Sentences for ‘Abortion Crimes’ are Unjust”

<임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크>규탄성명 발표 / A Public Denouncement by The Network for Pregnancy & Birth Decision Rights (NPBDR)

최근 들어 인공임신중절을 시술한 의사에게 실형이 선고되는 사례가 잇따르자 이에 대한 비판의 목소리가 커지고 있다. 이례적인 처벌 강화가 인공임신중절 시술의 위축을 가져와 여성들의 안전과 건강을 위협할 것이라는 우려에서다.

Recently, criticism has been growing of the numbers of doctors receiving sentences for performing abortions. There is a great deal of worry and anxiety that singling out abortion laws for enforcement will reduce the number of abortions and be dangerous for women’s safety and health.

‘임신중절’ 시술 의사에게 실형판결 잇따라 / Doctors are continually being sentenced for performing abortions

지난 9월 3일 울산지방법원은 인공임신중절을 시술한 의사에게 1심에서 징역 6월에 집행유예 1년, 자격정지 1년을 선고했다. 이에 앞서 지난 8월 수원지방법원은 역시 인공임신중절 시술 혐의로 고발된 산부인과 의사와 사무장에게 각각 징역 1년에 집행유예 2년, 징역 2년 6월의 실형을 선고했다.

On the 3rd of September, in the first session of a case at Ulsan District Court, a doctor who performed an abortion was given a 6-month jail sentence suspended for 1 year (i.e. no jail), and was stripped of their doctor’s license for 1 year. And in August at Suwon District Court, a gynecologist who was suspected of performing an abortion and the gynecology clinic manager were given a 1 year sentence suspended for 2 years and a 2 year, 6 month jail sentence respectively.

이는 그동안 인공임신중절에 대한 기소 건수 자체가 적었고, 기소되더라도 선고유예에 그치는 경우가 대부분이었던 것과 비교해 이례적이라는 평가다. (source, right)

Even though the number of cases of doctors that have received sentences for performing abortions is small, and most have received suspended sentences, compared with those the above cases are quite exceptional.

올해 2월 프로라이프의사회가 인공임신중절 시술을 한 의료기관 3곳을 고발했을 때에도 사무장이 구속 기소된 한 곳을 제외하고 각각 벌금 200만원에 약식기소, 무혐의 처리를 받았을 뿐이다.

In February, a pro-life doctor’s association filed suits against 3 clinics where abortions were being performed, but in all but one the managers simply to had to pay fines of 2 million won each in out of court settlements.

또 한 지난 5월에는 부산지방법원에서 임신 7주의 여성에게 인공임신중절을 시술한 혐의로 기소된 의사에 대해서도 선고유예판결을 내렸다. 당시 재판관은 “낙태에 대한 처벌과 관련해 공권력의 처벌의지가 상대적으로 미약했던”사실에 비춰 “의사에 대한 처벌은 형평성에 어긋난다”고 선고유예의 이유를 밝혔다.

In May, at Busan District Court, a doctor who was suspected of performing an abortion on a woman who was 7 weeks pregnant received a suspended sentence. In that case, the judge said in his or her judgment that “the government’s will for punishing abortion-related crimes is relatively weak”, and that the reason for the suspended sentence in that case was that “the [prescribed] punishment ran counter to notions of social equity”.

의사에게 징역형을 선고한 울산지방법원의 김정민 재판관이 “태아의 생명은 사람의 생명과 마찬가지로 형법이 보호하고자 하는 매우 중요한 법익”이라며 “형법의 비추에 피고인의 범행은 그 죄질이 가볍다고 볼 수 없”다고 선고 이유를 밝힌 것과 대조적이다.

In complete contrast, Kim Jeong-min, the judge who gave the jail sentence to the manager in Ulsan, said the reason was that “a fetus’s life is exactly the same a person’s life, and deserves the full benefit and protection of the law”, and hence “the defendant’s crime could not be punished lightly”.

(Source: 착선의 독서실)

“징역형 선고, 중절수술 위축시킬 것” “With Sentences, the Number of Abortions Will Go Down”

특히 9월 울산지방법원의 판결은 임신 10주의 ‘초기낙태’와 ‘10대여성의 낙태’에 대해 징역형을 선고한 것이어서 판결이 던진 파장이 심상치 않다. ‘의학적으로 시술이 안전한’ 12주 미만의 인공임신중절은 이미 많은 국가에서 합법화되어 있으며, 10대 임신의 경우에도 현실적으로 양육의 어려움이 있어 사실상 임신중절 허용사유로 용인되어 왔기 때문이다.

In particular, the September case in Ulsan has generated a lot of controversy because the doctor’s sentence was for an abortion performed on a teenage girl who was 10 weeks pregnant. After all, not only is abortion in the first trimester completely safe and legal in many countries, but the general consensus is that such young girls have special difficulties in raising a child.

이 판결에 대해 <임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크>는 29일 “여성의 결정권을 원천적으로 부정하는” 판결이라며 규탄성명을 내고, 항소심에 적극 대응할 것을 천명하고 나섰다. 임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크는 인공임신중절을 범죄화하는 움직임에 대응하기 위해 결성된 단체로서, 여성·노동·진보 단체들과 진보신당, 민주노동당이 함께 참여하고 있다.

< 임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크>는 잇따른 “징역형 선고가 선례가 돼 올해 2~3월처럼 낙태 수술이 위축돼 낙태 수술비가 치솟고, 낙태를 필요로 하는 여성들이 심각한 어려움에 처하게 될 것”이라고 심각한 우려를 표했다.

On the 29th of September, the NPBDR denounced that judgment as “fundamentally denying women’s rights” and that the group would actively appeal it. The NPBDR is an organization that was established to fight against the criminalization of abortion in conjunction with women’s groups, worker’s groups, progressive groups and the New Progressive and Democratic Labor Party. In addition, the NPBDR expressed serious worry about the “continuing cases of sentencing for abortions, which like those cases in February and March set precedents, and were accompanied by decreases in the numbers of abortions and a sudden rise in their expenses, which became a serious concern for women seeking abortions.”


실제로 올해 2월 프로라이프 의사회의 산부인과 고발 후, 산부인과의 임신중절 시술 기피로 인해 고통을 호소하는 상담전화가 여성단체에 빗발쳤다. 시술비용이 치솟았고, 비싼 수술비와 처벌에 대한 두려움 때문에 ‘원정낙태’를 알아보는 여성들까지 나타났었다.

After a pro-life doctor’s group filed suit against gynecologists in February, the reality was that they started avoiding providing abortion services, leading to a torrent of pleads for help from women to women’s groups’ hotlines. Because of the sudden increase in their expenses, and the fear of being punished, many women are now considering getting abortions overseas.

‘임신중절 허용’ 법 개정 움직임에 역행 Such Judgments Work Against Abortion Law Reform

< 임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크>는 특히 “여성운동이 여성의 요청에 의한 낙태를 허용하라는 목소리를 높이고 있고, 한나라당 홍일표 의원, 산부인과의사회, 법무부 형사법개정특별심의위원회 등도 제한적이나마 낙태를 허용하는 방향의 법 개정을 주장”하고 있는 상황에서 이런 판결이 나온 것에 대해 깊은 유감을 나타냈다.

The NPBDR, deeply saddened by the above cases, says “women’s movements and women in general are raising their voices high in their demands for legalizing abortion, and have the support of National Assemblyman Hong Il-pyeo of the ruling Grand National Party, gynecologists’ groups, and the Special Committee for the Reform of Criminal Law under the Ministry of Justice, and so on, that, although they only have limited political power, are also insisting on the legalization of abortion.”

“낙태가 불법화된 나라들이 합법화된 나라들보다 낙태율이 오히려 더 높”은 것에서도 드러나듯, “처벌이 결코 낙태를 줄일 수 없다”는 사실에 대해 이미 국제사회뿐만 아니라 우리나라에서도 공감대가 확산되고 있는 시점에서 시대착오적인 판결이라는 것이다. 현재 국제사회에서는 유엔 여성차별철폐협약(CEDAW)에 근거해 인공임신중절한 여성을 처벌하는 ‘낙태죄’ 폐지를 각국에 권고하고 있다.

Also, “compared to countries where abortion is legal, in fact abortion rates are higher in countries that have criminalized it,” and this means that “criminalizing abortions can never bring abortion rates down,” a fact that at this point in time not just international society, but Koreans also agree on, and so find the above judgments an anachronism. Presently, on the basis of the Convention on the U.N. Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), international society is recommending each country to abolish laws defining abortion as a crime and not punishing women who have abortions. (source, right)

< 임신․출산 결정권을 위한 네트워크>는 “출산은 여성의 삶 전체에 지대한 영향”을 미치고 “출산에 뒤따르는 책임을 감당할 당사자도 여성”이라는 점을 환기시키며 “자신의 삶에 대해 신중하게 고민하고 낙태를 결정한 여성을 범죄자 취급해서는 안 된다”고 못 박았다. 또한 앞으로 있을 항소심에 대한 구체적 대응을 준비 중에 있다고 덧붙였다.

Finally, the NPBDR wants to remind everyone that “giving birth is the single most influential thing in a woman’s whole life,” and is accompanied by a great deal of anxiety about how and if she will be able to cope with her new role as a mother. The group firmly insisted that “accordingly women who have agonized over this and come to the final decision to have an abortion should not be treated like criminals,” and added that they were making strenuous efforts to prepare to fight for their appeal against the Suwon judgment (end).

And on that note, apologies for not finding any information about the woman fined for simply planning an abortion, as mentioned in the earlier post, and I’ll keep looking. But in the meantime, I was very happy to read about the palpable resistance to Lee Myung-bak’s anti-abortion drive that is already emerging!

How about you?

14 thoughts on “Resisting the Criminalization of Abortion in South Korea

  1. The illustration “Worried Moments for Korean Couple” seems to be from the opening of the anime さよなら 絶望先生 (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei). The girl on the left is 常月 まとい (Tsunetsuki Matoi) and the protagonist, 糸色 望 (Itoshiki Nozomu) is on the right.



  2. I can’t understand why the 2MB administration wouldn’t simply want to keep this out of the coursts and in the closet. It’s not going to win them any votes that they wouldn’t already be getting.


  3. I wonder why conservatives the world over (especially men) seem so intent on telling women what they can or can’t do with their lives or bodies? They always seem very eager to limit what women can do – drive, walk outside, get pregnant, work, the list goes on and on.


  4. Hard to believe that the government will go to that extend to stop abortion. It seems like that government is treating those women as an object or maybe they are only judging a women worth base on her ability to give birth. I do agree that each fetus is a live; however, I believe that each woman have their right to choose to have the baby or not. It seems like the government is trying to butt in family and personal business. The worst of all is that they are suspending the doctor’s license. Wow, I mean I how much money those doctor had put in their education. Right now, they make it seem like that doctors are devil for helping those women. For sure, I feel sorry for those doctor because they just helping their patient especially the one who helped the young girl to do her abortion. She is 16, being a teenage mom will be hard for work. Plus the worst part is that if the girl can’t get her life straight the baby will be the victim.


  5. Anybody know if they’re cracking down on the morning-after pill as well? Last time I checked you could get it with an (easily obtained) prescription.


  6. Have you come across any information on problems foreign women have encountered trying procure abortions here? Sounds like it could be complicated.


  7. It was glad to see a posting about abortion in korea written in English. I’m obgy doctor in Seoul, and I’m about to write a book about the abortion right. While I search the data, I encountered with your article.

    The answer for the question you mentioned above is that : the manager of the clinic in Suwon got a suspended sentence because she did the procedure by herself without any licence. It could be hard to believe, but in Korea, simple procedures such as eyelid reshaping or liposusction, manual aspiration(simple form of aboriton) are done by nurses or unqualified person occasionally. but of course it’s illegal. Anyway, the point in that case is illegal medical procedure by people who are not doctor.

    There was one case with women who had abortion actually got punished. In most cases, doctors are punished because of medical law and abortion law in criminal law. It manipulate doctors into hesitating to provide the abortion, and the cost of abotion procedure has soared. It’s awkward…


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