Challenging Stereotypes about Abortion


Okay, maybe I have overdone it a little with that above image. Because I certainly I don’t mean to appear flippant about the subject of abortion.

But hear me out — something just snapped in me when I saw the unnecessarily sombre cover (and tone) of Womenlink’s new book on abortion below. Because in reality, most abortion patients and their partners report feeling more relieved than depressed and regretful, despite what you usually read about them in the media.

So, the humor of the Yoda-like, oddly-appropriate Engrish above felt like a very welcome antidote. As did the additional images of happy couples you’ll find throughout this post, used in lieu of much harder to find “relieved” (안심했다? 안심이다?) ones.

Also, it was ironic that something that set out to challenge stereotypes would confirm so many of my own in the process. Namely, that all too many Koreans are forced to seek abortions because of a lack of basic knowledge about contraception, and that women are still wary of keeping condoms on hand and/or insisting their partners use them, lest they “be regarded as a slut or an experienced and impure woman” (which in turn leads to the perception that contraception is only men’s responsibility).

But don’t get me wrong — these are minor quibbles really, and otherwise I have nothing but praise for the book!


‘낙태’ 사회적 배경을 이야기하는 이유, The reason why we talk about the social background of ‘abortion’

Ildaro, November 15th 2011

민우회, 낙태 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간 의의, The Significance of the Publication of Womenlink’s Abortion Casebook There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of

필자 회색연필님은 비혼 페미니스트 방송 ‘야성의 꽃다방’ 활동가로, 현재 대학원에서 보건학을 전공하고 있습니다. [편집자 주]

The author, Grey Pencil, is a graduate student in health science and activist who is part of the unmarried feminist radio program “Wild Nature’s Flower Tea Room.” [Editor’s Note]

낙태 금지한 형법은 위헌‘ 헌법재판소 공개 변론, Constitutional Court public proceeding ‘for the criminal law that prohibits abortion’

지 난 10일 헌법재판소에서는 ‘낙태죄’의 위헌 여부를 두고 첫 공개 변론이 열렸다. 이번 소송은 2010년 부산에서 인공임신중절시술을 시행한 혐의로 기소된 조산사가 ‘낙태를 금지하는 형법 조항은 임부의 인간으로서의 존엄과 가치, 행복추구권, 평등권, 신체의 자유, 사생활의 자유, 혼인과 가족생활의 존엄 등을 침해하여 위헌’이라며 소송을 청구한 것에서 시작됐다.

On November 10, the first public arguments over criminal abortion began at the Constitutional Court. This case began after a midwife who was indicted on the charge of carrying out a procedure to terminate a pregnancy in Busan in 2010 filed suit, saying, “The criminal law clause that prohibits abortion violates a pregnant woman’s dignity and value as a human, her right to pursue happiness, right to equality, bodily freedom, privacy, and the dignity of her marriage and family life, and thus is a violation of the constitution.”

형법 270조 1항(업무상 동의낙태죄)은 임산부의 동의를 얻어 낙태시술을 한 의사, 조산사 등을 형사처벌하도록 규정하고 있다.

Criminal Law Article 270 Clause 1 (Professional Abortion with Consent) stipulates that doctors or midwives who receive the pregnant woman’s consent and perform an abortion will receive a criminal penalty.

이날 변론에서 청구인과 법무부는 낙태죄의 실효성 여부와 임산부의 자율권 침해 여부 등 쟁점을 두고 첨예한 의견 대립을 보였다. 청구인 측은 임부의 자기결정권을 주장했고, 법무부 측은 태아의 생명권 존중을 내세웠다.

At the proceeding on this day, the claimant and the Ministry of Justice showed sharply conflicting opinions on the issues of the effectiveness of the abortion law and the violation of the autonomy of pregnant women.  The claimant’s side insisted on the right to self-determination of a pregnant woman, and the Ministry’s side advocated respect for the right to life of a fetus.

현재 대한민국에서 낙태(인공임신중절)는 ‘불법’이다. 그러나 지난 몇 십년 간 낙태는 암암리에 이뤄져왔고, 사회적으로 큰 문제가 되지 않았다. 그러나 ‘저출산 문제’가 대두되면서 정부는 낙태율을 줄이기 위해 지금까지 쉬쉬하던 ‘불법’ 행위를 집중적으로 단속하기 시작했다. 그리고 작년, 낙태 근절 운동을 벌여온 프로라이프 의사회의 고발로 몇몇 병원과 조산원이 검찰에 고발돼 징계를 받으면서, 낙태를 둘러싼 찬반 논쟁이 촉발되었다.

Currently, abortion (the artificial termination of a pregnancy) is “illegal” in the Republic of Korea.  However, for the past few decades abortion has been done in secret, and it hasn’t become a big societal problem.  As the low birth rate problem comes to the fore, however, the government has begun to intensively crack down on this formerly covered-up “illegal” activity in order to reduce the rate of abortions.    Also, last year, as several hospitals and maternity clinics were reported to prosecutors and punished through the accusations of a pro-life medical association that has campaigned for the eradication of abortion, controversy has been sparked surrounding the pros and cons of abortion (source, right).

이러한 시점에서 한국여성민우회는 낙태의 당사자이면서도 정작 논쟁에서는 배제되었던 여성들의 목소리를 모으기 시작했다. 그렇게 모인 22명의 여성의 이야기를 엮어 올 가을, 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다> 발간되었다.

At this time, Korean Womenlink began to gather the voices of women, who, though they are the actual people whom abortion directly concerns, had been excluded from the argument.  The stories of women gathered like this were woven together and this autumn, the abortion casebook “There’s no such thing as the abortion you’re thinking of” was published.

여성들이 말하는낙태란 무엇인가’, What women say “abortion” is

사 례집은 낙태 경험이 있는 여성들을 인터뷰하고, 그 내용을 바탕으로 총 22명의 여성들의 이야기를 낙태 결정의 순간과 낙태를 하는 순간, 낙태 그 이후의 경험들 그리고 피임에 관련된 부분과 상대(남성)의 이야기 등으로 구분하여 엮었다.

Women who’ve had an abortion were interviewed, and from that material, a total of 22 women’s stories are divided up into the moment they decided to get an abortion, the moment they got it, their experiences afterwards, and a section about birth control and their (male) partner’s story, and these parts are woven together in the casebook.

사례집에 실린 각양각색의 배경을 가진 22명의 여성들의 이야기는 모두 다 다르면서도 같았다. 낙태를 하게 된 상황이나 상대에 대한 생각 등은 모두 다 달랐지만, 다들 ‘낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 선택이었다.’는 점과 ‘다른 여성들에게 힘이 되고 싶다’는 마음은 같았다. 그랬기에 이 어려운 이야기들을 선뜻 나서서 이야기할 수 있었던 것이리라 생각한다.

The stories of the 22 women of various backgrounds in the casebook are all different yet the same.  The situation in which they chose abortion or their thoughts about their partners are different, but all of them had the same feeling that, “Abortion was the only option,” and, “I want to be a source of strength to other women.”  I think that may be the reason that they were able to come forward and tell their difficult stories willingly (Caption, right: 한국여성민우회에서 발간한 낙태 관련 사례집 <당신이 생각하는 낙태는 없다>; The abortion-related casebook published at Womenlink {source}).

태아를 생명권으로 보아 생명을 우선시하느냐, 아니면 산모의 선택을 존중하느냐는 논쟁은 단순히 ‘낳을 것인가, 낳지 않을 것인가’의 ‘낙태’ 행위에만 초점이 맞춰져 있다.

The debate over whether to put life first out of consideration for the right to life of a fetus, or to respect the choice of a pregnant woman, is focused into the act of abortion as simply, “have the baby, or not.”

보건의료학적 측면에서 보면 태아=생명이기 때문에 낙태는 비난받아야 한다는 결론이 난다. 그런데 보통 보건영역에서 정책을 결정할 때 단순히 건강만을 위한 것 외에도 사회경제적 요인도 같이 고려하여 판단한다. 여성의 낙태 문제 역시 보건 영역에 속하는 것으로 볼 수 있지만 희한하게도 ‘낙태’만큼은 사회-경제적 요인은 간과하여 판단하고 있다. 윤리적인 이슈가 이미 형성되어 있어, 낙태 행위 그 자체만을 놓고 이야기하려 하는 것이다.

From a health-care perspective, because a fetus = life, one comes to the conclusion that abortion must be criticized.  However, in the usual domain of health care, when making policy decisions, other socioeconomic factors besides simple health must be considered when making a judgment. Women’s abortion question could of course be considered in the domain of health care, but strangely, only in abortion’s case, socioeconomic factors are being ignored when making a judgment.   The ethical side of the issue is already formed in people’s minds, so the casebook attempts to discuss the act of abortion itself.

그렇기에 이번에 민우회에서 발간한 낙태 사례집은 이러한 ‘낙태’ 행위만을 보지 않고, 낙태를 둘러싼 ‘사회적’ 배경이 그녀들에게 어떤 영향을 미쳤는지를 당사자들의 목소리를 통해 잘 보여주고 있다는 점에서 큰 의미를 갖는다고 본다.

That’s why the abortion casebook that Womenlink published doesn’t just look at the act of abortion, it shows what kind of effect the societal background that surrounds abortion has on these women through the voices of the people involved; for this reason, it is meaningful.

흔히, 낙태를 하는 사람들은 ‘성적으로 문란하다.’, ‘순결하지 못하다.’, ‘미혼 여성들이 많을 것이다.’라고 생각하는데, 사례집에서 드러난 바로는 그렇지 않았다. 모두 우리 주변에서 볼 수 있는 평범한 사람들이었고, 비혼 여성이 많을 것이라는 생각과는 달리 오히려 기혼 여성들의 낙태경험이 많았다.

Commonly, people that have an abortion are thought of as “sexually promiscuous,” “impure”, or “probably mostly unmarried women,” but according to the casebook, that isn’t true.  They are all average people we can see around us, and different from the unmarried women that were expected, many married women had experiences with abortion.


혼인 유무를 떠나, 그들에겐 낙태는 어쩔 수 없는 ‘강요된 선택’의 문제였다. 기혼 여성의 경우, 육아를 둘러싼 경제적, 사회적 여건에 때문에 낙태를 선택할 수밖에 없었지만, 자식들을 기르면서도 마음의 상처를 안고 살아간다. 비혼의 경우 역시 크게 다르지 않다. 역시 젊은 나이라 경제적인 기반 등 아이를 낳아 기를 준비가 되어있지 않을뿐더러, 사회적 ‘낙인’ 때문에 산부인과에서도 애초부터 아이를 낳을 선택권이 주어지지 않는 경우가 많았다.

Whether or not they were married, abortion was an unavoidable “forced choice” to them.  For married women, because of the economic and social conditions surrounding raising a child, they couldn’t choose anything but abortion, but they live with that pain in their heart even as they raise their other children.  Unmarried women are also not very different.  They are young, of course, and so lack a financial base, so not only are they not prepared to have and raise a child, but there are many cases in which, because of their social label, they are not even given the right to choose to have the baby, even at an ob-gyn.

사례집에 실린 여성들 모두, ‘낳고 싶었지만 낳을 수 없는 상황’이 문제였다고 이야기한다. 낙태는 개인의 기호가 담긴 선택이 아니라 사회가 강요한 ‘선택’이었던 것이다. 사회는 저출산을 문제 삼으면서도 왜 여성들이 아이를 낳지 않으려하는지를 보지 않고 그저 낙태를 선택한 여성에게만 손가락질 한다.

The women in the casebook all say the problem was that they “wanted to have the baby but couldn’t in that situation.”  Abortion was not a matter of personal preference, but a “choice” forced by society.  Even as society makes an issue of the low birth rate, it doesn’t ask why women don’t want to have children, it just points the finger at women who have chosen abortion.

임신은 남녀가 함께 관여해서 발생하는 문제이고, 해결 역시 남녀가 같이 풀어야 될 문제이다. 하지만, 원치 않은 임신이 닥쳤을 때, 결국 책임지는 사람은 ‘여성’이 된다. 그렇기 때문에 여성에게는 임신이 갖는 의미가 굉장히 크다. 그럼에도 불구하고 사회는 이러한 임신의 문제가 단순히 여성이 10개월짜리의 고생으로 인식되고, 거의 대부분의 여성들이 감당하는 향후 20년간의 양육문제는 인식조차 하지 않는다.

Pregnancy is a problem that occurs with both men and women’s participation, and its solution should also be an issue that a man and woman resolve together.  However, when an unwanted pregnancy happens, the woman becomes the person who takes responsibility.  Because of this, pregnancy is very significant for women.  Despite this, society considers this issue of pregnancy as simply 10 months of hardship for a woman, and doesn’t even recognize the following 20 years of raising the child that is mostly done by women (source, right).

이로 인해, 임신 사실 조차 달갑지 않은 여성들도 많을 것이다. 미혼의 임신은 순결이데올로기와 맞물려 미혼모라는 이유만으로 손가락질 당하고, 그 자식마저도 편견으로부터 자유로울 수 없다. 그 뿐 아니라 경제적인 뒷받침도 미비하다. 기혼 여성이라도 크게 다르지 않다. 육아는 전업주부든, 직장여성이든 누구에게나 가벼운 문제가 아니다.

For this reason, there will be many women to whom the very fact of their pregnancy is unwelcome.  Unwed pregnancy is [negatively] connected to the ideology of purity, and so they are scorned just for being unwed mothers, and even their children are not free from prejudice.  Not only that, economic support is also inadequate.  Even married women are not much different.  Child-rearing is not an easy problem for anyone, full-time homemaker or career woman.

직 장여성의 경우는 더 버거운 문제이다. 임신과 동시에 직장에서는 그만두기를 강요당하고, 출산 이후 재취업이 쉽지 않아 임신을 더 꺼리게 만든다. 그 뿐인가, 맞벌이가 대세인 요즘에도 탁아시설 등의 인프라는 갖춰주지도 않고 여성 개개인에게 모성만을 강요하여 워킹맘이 슈퍼맘이 되도록 요구한다. 이런 상황에서 사회적으로나 경제적으로나 열악한 상황일 경우 누가 낳아 기르려고 하겠는가.

In career women’s case, it is a more unmanageable problem.  When pregnant, they are forced to quit, and re-entering the workforce after giving birth is not easy, so they are reluctant to become pregnant.  Not only that, even in this time in which dual-income families are the general trend, infrastructure like day-care facilities are not provided and each woman is pressured to be maternal, and so working  moms are asked to become super moms. In this kind of situation, when both the social and financial situations are inadequate, who would want to have and raise a child?


남자들도 수술대에 앉아 본다면…If men also tried sitting on that operating table

무엇보다 낙태에 대한 정부의 태도가 여성을 재생산의 측면에서 보고 있다는 점은 무례하고 후진적이다. 출산율을 올리기 위해 낙태를 금지하는 정책을 편다는 것은, 여성을 자아실현 등의 욕구가 있는 한 개인이 아니라, 아이를 낳는 존재로서  ‘관리’해야 하는 대상으로 간주하는 것이다.

More than anything, the government’s attitude towards abortion looks at women from a reproductive aspect, which is disrespectful and backwards.  Implementing a policy that prohibits abortion in order to raise the birth rate is considering women not as individuals with desires like that of self-realization, but as beings that give birth and thus objects [in the sense that they are the targets of an action] that need to be managed

과거의 인구조절정책을 봐도 그렇다. 인구가 많았던 시절에는 낙태를 쉬쉬했으며, 남녀 모두 정관수술이나 난관수술 등을 권장하고 강요했다. 그러던 정부가 20~30여년이 지난 지금, 이제는 출산률을 올리기 위해 ‘낙태’를 금지하겠다는 것이다.

Past population-control policies show this as well.    At the time when the population was large, abortion was done quietly, and men and women were encouraged or compelled to have vasectomies or tubal ligations.  Twenty or thirty years have passed and now the government that did that has resolved to prohibit abortion in order to raise the birth rate.

사실, 낙태를 반대하는 입장에서는 ‘낙태는 피임만 잘 하면 줄일 수 있다’고 말하는데 나는 일부는 동의한다. 사례들을 살펴봐도 남녀 모두 피임법을 잘 몰랐던 경우가 많았다. ‘피임’이라는 개념 자체를 몰라서 덜컥 임신이 된 경우들도 있었고, ‘질외사정법’이던가 ‘체온주기법’과 같은 피임 성공률이 낮은 방법을 사용하고 있었다는 점이다.

In truth, I agree in part with the anti-abortion position that says, “We can reduce abortions just by using birth control well.”  Looking at the casebook, there were many instances in which neither the man nor the woman knew much about birth control.  There were cases in which they didn’t know of the very concept of “birth control” and so unexpectedly became pregnant, and also those who were using types of birth control with a low success rate, like the “withdrawal method” or the “body-temperature cycle method.”


최근에 성교육이 많이 보급되었다고 하지만, 위의 사례들을 보면 아직도 성교육이 부족하다는 생각이 든다. 한편으로, 피임이 완벽히 성공할 것이라는 우리의 생각과는 달리 실제로 100% 피임은 불가능하다는 사실도 인정해야 한다.

Sex education has become quite widespread these days, but looking at the cases above, one gets the impression that sex education is still deficient.  On the other hand, different from our belief that birth control will be perfectly effective, we must recognize the fact that 100%-effective birth control is not truly possible.

성관계 시 작용하는 남녀 간의 권력구도 역시 짚고 넘어갈 필요가 있다. 사례들을 보면 여성이 피임도구 사용에 대해 이야기할 수 없는 상황이 많았다. 피임 성공률이 가장 높은 콘돔을 사용하자고 이야기 할 때 ‘헤픈 여자’, ‘경험 있는 순결하지 못한 여자’로 치부될까봐 말하지 못하거나 남성 쪽에서 콘돔 사용을 꺼려한다는 이유로 사용하지 못하는 식이다.

There is also a need to deal with the power structure between a man and woman who start to have sex. Among the cases, there were many in which the woman was in a situation in which she couldn’t talk about using birth control.  She couldn’t say anything because she was afraid that if she suggested using a condom – the birth control with the highest success rate -she would be regarded as a “slut” or an “experienced and impure woman”, or she didn’t use a condom because the man was reluctant to (source, right: unknown).

자신이 준비되지 않았음에도 불구하고 남성의 요구를 차마 거절하지 못하고 성관계를 맺은 사례도 많았다. 그리고 심지어 부인에게 정관수술 했다고 거짓말하는 남편들도 있었다.

There were also many cases in which the woman couldn’t bear to refuse the man’s demand and so had sex even though she wasn’t ready. There were even men who lied and told their wives that they had had vasectomies.

이처럼 가부장제하에서 ‘순결이데올로기’와 맞물린 남녀 간의 권력구도가 여성에게 상당히 불리하게 작용함을 알 수 있었다. 그러나 사례집에서 나타난 여성의 임신 상황에 대처하는 남자들의 태도는 미숙하기만 했다. 걱정해주고 함께 고민하는 남자들도 있었지만, 나 몰라라 하고 사라지는 경우도 적지 않았다. 그런 남성을 만난 어떤 여성은 ‘남자들도 그 수술대에 앉아 보면 좋겠다.’고 말한다. 오죽하면 그런 이야기를 했을까 싶다.

In this way, we see that in a patriarchal system, the power structure between men and women, which is connected to the “purity ideology,” is considerably disadvantageous to women.  However, in the casebook, the attitude of the men who are dealing with the women’s pregnancies is merely one of inexperience.  There were men who were anxious and who worried with the woman, but there are also not a few instances in which the man did nothing and disappeared.  One woman who met a man like that said, “I wish that men would try being on that operating table.”  She must have had a hard time, for her to say that.

낙태, 말할 있게 하라, Make it possible to talk about abortion

아직도 우리사회에서는 낙태에 대한 인식이 좋지 않다. 사례집의 몇몇 사례들에서 이야기한 ‘낙태 경험’에서 심지어 낙태를 시술하는 의료인까지도 사회적 통념의 틀을 벗어나지 못하고 있음을 잘 보여준다.

In our society, the perception of abortion is still not good.  The “abortion experience” section of several of the cases in the casebook shows that even some of the doctors who perform abortions can’t think outside the box of societal norms (Caption, above: 임신출산결정권을 위한 네트워크는 헌번재판소 공개변론일에 맞추어 ‘낙태 처벌 반대’를 주장하며 집회를 가졌다; A network for pregnancy and childbirth decision-making rights holds a gathering and argues for “opposition to abortion punishments” to address the public proceedings at the Constitutional Court).

낙태를 결심하고 병원을 찾은 여성들 역시 죄책감에 시달리고 말 못할 비밀을 갖게 되는데, 미혼이니 당연히 낙태를 선택할 것이라 생각한 의사며, 헤픈 여자라는 시선으로 싸늘하게 대한 간호사의 태도는 그들에게 낙태에 대한 부정적인 인식을 더욱 강화하게 만든다. 낙태는 축복받을 일도 아니지만, 어떤 측면에서는 ‘시선의 폭력’이라는 생각이 든다. 그리고 이런 식의 ‘낙인’들이 낙태 경험을 가진 여성을 더욱 더 말할 수 없는 존재로 만들어버린다.

Women who decide to have an abortion and find a hospital suffer from a sense of guilt and acquire a secret they can’t tell, of course, and while there are doctors who think that it’s natural to get an abortion because a woman is unmarried, the attitude of nurses who consider them sluts and treat them coldly further reinforces to them the negative perception of abortion.  Abortion isn’t a blessed event, but in some ways, this [attitude] seems like a “violence of perception”.  Also, those kinds of labels make women who’ve had abortions more unable to speak.


사실, 국내에서 낙태에 대한 정확한 수치를 파악조차 하기 힘들다고 한다. 국가에서 의료인과 일반 여성들을 대상으로 인공임신중절 실태조사를 했지만, 생각보다 적은 수로 나온다. 그만큼 낙태는 음성적으로 행해져왔고, 대책을 세우기도 쉽지 않은 상황이다. 여성의 낙태 경험을 이야기 할 수없는 사회적 분위기가 낙태를 ‘비현실적인 것’으로 만들어버린다. 하지만 낙태는 여성에게 ‘일어날 수 있는 사건’이다.

Truthfully, it is said to be difficult to even figure out the exact number of domestic abortions. Research on the artificial termination of pregnancy has been done targeting the country’s health care providers and average women, but the numbers were smaller than expected.  Abortion has been done that secretly; also, it is not easy to establish measures.  The social atmosphere in which women can’t talk about their abortion experiences has made abortion an “unreal thing.”  However, abortion is an event that can happen to women.

낙 태 경험을 드러냄으로써 낙태가 단순한 것이 아니라 복잡한 상황 속에서 내린 매우 어려운 선택이었고 큰 고통이었음을 세상에 이야기하는 것이 중요한 의미가 있다는 생각이 든다. 나 역시도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 낙태를 경험했던 내 친구가 겪었을 고통을 깨닫지 못했으니까. 내 주변에는 낙태 경험이 없다고 생각했었다. 적어도 사례집을 읽기 전까지는 친구가 내게 낙태 경험을 이야기했다는 사실 조차 기억하고 있지 못했다.

Through the disclosure of experiences with abortion, it occurs to me that abortion is not a simple thing, but a very difficult choice made in a complicated situation, and telling of that great pain to the world has important meaning.  That’s because before reading the casebook, I too did not realize the pain that my friend who had an abortion went through.  I had thought that no one around me had had an abortion.  Before reading the casebook, at least, I hadn’t even remembered the fact that my friend had told me she’d had an abortion.


몇년 전, 방학이라 한동안 연락이 끊어졌던 친구가 개강 후 만난 내게 가볍게 ‘애 떼러 갔다 왔다’고 웃으며 이야기했던 적이 있었다. 그 당시의 나는 ‘아, 그랬구나’ 대수롭지 않게 넘겼지만, 사례집을 읽으면서 뒤늦게 그 친구가 내게 그렇게 이야기하기까지 얼마나 힘들었을지, 웃음 뒤에 숨겨진 그 친구의 아픔을 이제야 이해하고 공감할 수 있었다. 이런 낙태 경험을 공유함으로써 어쩌면 여성들끼리의 연대가 형성되고, 또 그렇게 여성들이 뭉칠 필요가 있지 않을까 하는 생각이 든다. 그런 의미에서 이 사례집 발간은 연대의 시발점이 되지 않을까 싶다.

A few years ago, a friend who I hadn’t been in contact with during a [university] break said to me, when we met after the start of classes,  “I went to have a baby removed,” lightly and with a smile.  “Oh, I see,” I said, passing over it as not a big deal, but while reading the casebook, I can finally understand and sympathize, belatedly, with how hard it must have been for her to tell me that, and the pain that was hidden behind her smile.   I think that through sharing these kinds of experiences, solidarity may be formed between women, and that women standing together in that way might be necessary.   In this kind of meaning, the publishing of the casebook could become a starting point for solidarity.

인간은 사회적 동물이기에 사회가 인간에게 미치는 영향력은 굉장하다. 그 맥락에서 낙태를 여성 개인의 한 문제로 볼 수 없을 뿐더러, 여성 개인의 문제로 국한시켜서 책임을 지울 수도 없다. 낙태를 금지(pro-life)냐 허용(pro-choice)이냐로 먼저 따지기 전에, 낙태를 둘러싼 입체적인 사회적 배경을 먼저 읽어야 할 것이다.

Because humans are social animals, the influence that society has on people is tremendous.  In that context, not only can we not look at abortion as an individual woman’s problem, but we also can’t limit it to an individual woman’s problem and thus saddle her with the responsibility.  Before quibbling over being pro-life or pro-choice, we need to first read about the multi-dimensional, societal background that surrounds abortion.

(Many thanks to Marilyn for the mammoth translation)

19 thoughts on “Challenging Stereotypes about Abortion

  1. Hi James,

    Thanks for posting this article. It was a very interesting read. I was wondering if you could direct me to a source or statistic regarding your statement about most women and their partners being more relieved than depressed and regretful? When I clicked on the link it just took me to a similar statement in a comment on another post. Is there an actual survey or report to back it up? I’m just curious because it challenges my anecdotal experience of various friends’ abortion experiences. I’d love to know what the actual reality is since anecdotal experience is merely that! Thanks^^


    1. (James – I’ve changed the link in the post from that old comment to this one)

      With my eternal gratitude to that original commenter for helping me with your question, let me pass on Wikipedia’s Abortion and Mental Health page for an overview, and especially “Abortion and Mental Health: Evaluating the Evidence” in the December 2009 edition (Vol. 64, no. 9, pp. 863-890) of American Psychologist, which you can download here (email me for a copy if the link ever dies). While it’s a little long though, and unfortunately you’re unlikely to find a money quote beyond this in the conclusion on page 885 –

      …the majority of adult women who terminate a pregnancy do not experience mental health problems. Across studies, the prevalence of disorders among women who terminated a pregnancy was low, and most women reported being satisfied with their decision to abort both one month and two years postabortion.

      – I highly recommend jumping to that page for a good summary of their findings, while the article as a whole is basically one long literature review concluding that everybody who finds that women feel bad after abortions is, well, mostly full of crap. Women can and do feel bad at the time of course, and a small minority continue to do so well after, but like it says above, most women who have abortions are ultimately perfectly happy with their decisions.

      Finally, Planned Parenthood wrote this in reply to the question “Is having an abortion emotionally and psychologically dangerous?” in their Abortion Q&A section here:

      No. Most women feel relief after an abortion. Serious emotional problems after abortion are much less likely than they are after giving birth. But anti choice extremists make false claims about this. They want people to believe that most women who choose abortion suffer severe and long lasting emotional trauma. This is not true.

      For more than 20 years, most scientific studies have found that emotional reactions to having abortion are relatively positive with two exceptions. Women who have psychological problems before the pregnancy and subsequent abortion continue to have them afterward. Also, women who have to terminate an intended pregnancy are more likely to be emotionally disturbed afterward.

      Anti-choice extremists refuse to accept the facts. They insist that “post abortion trauma” is real. They hope that such terms will frighten women away from choosing abortion. But neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes the existence of such phenomena — because there’s no such thing.


  2. What I find interesting is that whether in Korea or America women basically give the same reasons for their abortions. The most common one being that it was a “forced” choice. Since strictly speaking, in almost all cases, it isn’t, there must be other reasons for its prominence. Certainly blaming society has some potential psychological value in that it removes some level of responsibility from the aborter and hence lessens feelings of guilt. But I wonder if over time it is common for women who have had abortions to “face up” to their decision and take more ownership for it. For the interviews in the books how long after the abortion in question were they done? If it varies, is there any identifiable emotional pattern of recovery?

    Disclaimer: I think most abortions should be legal but find it disheartening, if understandable, that women (and men who support them) consistently blame society, whether American or Korean, for their behavior rather than taking personal responsibility for it. If its just a temporary coping mechanism fine, but I think that we should be careful about how long we support this conceit. With that said, having lived in Korea, am married to one, and am very aware of how claustrophobic Korean society can feel to its members.


    1. Uncool, dude. By having an abortion, women *are* taking responsibility. If you’d read James’ comment above or the sources he cites, you know that women in general aren’t blaming society in some kind of weird attempt to assuage the guilt that you think they feel.


  3. I’m actually not as riled up about the cover as you are, James. Instead, I’m much more irked by the writer’s insistence that abortions are seemingly always “difficult” and “painful.” Abortion may not be a walk in the park, but neither are they the awful things the author implies. No reliable research has found that women in general suffer mentally from abortions (as the above links point out). And just because people are bringing their own anecdotal experiences in here, I know a few women who have had abortions and none of them feel particularly bad about it or regret their decision.


    1. Oh, I quite agree with you about the writer’s tone. I guess my (over)emphasis on the cover was a you-had-to-be-there blogging sort-of thing, born of years of frustration of ending up right back on my damn blog when I Google or Naver snazzy images for new blog posts!


  4. Gomushin don’t put me into an easily condemn-able pigeon-hole so quickly.

    Here are the quotes I was referencing when I said the women felt “forced.”

    The women felt ”Abortion was the only option,”

    “Whether or not they were married, abortion was an unavoidable “forced choice” to them.”

    Again it is clear that abortion is almost never the only option. So why are the women citing it as if it were? My guess is that they feel strongly compelled to do what they perceive their society expects of them. That’s not something that I’m particularly happy about whether in Korea or America. I’d prefer a world where tolerant and free societies do not make people feel like they must take unavoidable “forced choices,” but rather let them confidently say to their peers “I have made a difficult choice that I think is best for me.” In order to build that kind of society I don’t think its helpful in the long term, though certainly it may be excusable in the short term, to continue to reinforce the idea that choices can be “forced” onto people.

    As to guilt, whether one believes in abortion rights or not, (I happen to for the record) I think it should be pretty non-controversial to state that an abortion, even when chosen, is done so with the recognition that it is a “lesser evil,” rather than a good thing in itself. Whether or not it is an experience that imparts lifelong trauma (from the reports it seems not to) I would guess that most women would say that it is at least unpleasant in part because they recognize that they are ending potential (or actual, it doesn’t really matter) life. I’d feel guilty doing it even if I knew it was the right choice. Lets not be cavalier about the gravity of the act. Which is why I asked about the timing of the interviews and if there was any typical emotional pattern of recovery.


    1. My guess is that they feel strongly compelled to do what they perceive their society expects of them.

      If I got pregnant today, as a married woman in a stable relationship, with a stable job, a good husband with a good job, money saved up, very little debt, and the ability to stay-at-home it and live on my husband’s income? Society would expect me to keep the kid. Because that’s what my society says married, responsible adults should do.

      Would I do what society expects and continue the pregnancy? Absolutely not.


    2. Sorry, but the tone of your comment is pretty unconvincing, especially when your last post said that Korean and American women both report being forced into abortions (citation? I mean, the article quotes Korean women saying that they felt forced by circumstance, but it doesn’t mean what you claim it means. I’m sure now you’ll pull out that “cross-cultural reasons for abortion” survey, right?)
      Then you go on to say that that they’re lying about feeling forced so that they can feel better about the decision, saying,
      “Certainly blaming society has some potential psychological value in that it removes some level of responsibility from the aborter and hence lessens feelings of guilt”
      This is not exactly being supportive, this is claiming that they feel guilty. Which as noted in comments above, doesn’t seem to be common at all. The author of this piece mentions feelings of guilt exactly once, and as I’ve noted in one of my previous comments, the narrative she’s constructing isn’t terribly correct or constructive. She’s projecting a lot of emotions onto these women that isn’t in line with what research has been done, pretty much as a sympathy ploy.
      And as for Korean women who feel like their choices have been constrained? Um, not really an unrealistic assessment, considering unwed mothers here are subject to educational, employment, and a host of other kinds of discrimination. Not an unrealistic conclusion, considering the employment and financial considerations most couples already have to make, especially if they already have children. Sure, you could chuck it all to the wind and accept that you’re going to live your life in at least mild poverty, if not being totally socially shunned, but that’s not really what most people would consider a realistic or sensible option.


  5. @Justin : I think you’re misunderstanding the ‘forced’ thingy. You think “forced” is synonymous with guilt. (I think that) You think most women feel depressed after they did abortion, while the study from James’ comment says :

    (“…the majority of adult women who terminate a pregnancy do not experience mental health problems. Across studies, the prevalence of disorders among women who terminated a pregnancy was low, and most women reported being satisfied with their decision to abort both one month and two years postabortion.”)

    and still, you say something like this (“Whether or not it is an experience that imparts lifelong trauma (from the reports it seems not to”)

    It feels really passive-agressive. Then you say :

    “They feel strongly compelled to do what they perceive society expects of them”

    If I’m not reading your argument wrong, do you think that those “pressures” are.. like, pressure to work, pressure to be economically independent, pressure to be capable caretakers.. pressures like that? Sorry for my bad faith, but it looks like you’re suggesting that it’s better for women to, uhh, go back?

    Cause if I’m reading the article right, they feel “forced” (mostly) because of their [a] socio-economic factors [b] Burdens of gender roles (forced to quit their job if pregnant, workplace discrimination, expected to be the primary caretaker and housekeeper) and lastly [c] Because the lack of sex eds in Korea, which leads to inadequate use of condoms and contraceptions, which leads to unintened pregnancy.

    I really don’t understand your argument. Maybe because I’m not a native. Can you clear your arguments, Justin?


  6. Strange this has turned into more of a discussion then I thought it would be. Have I really made some controversial remarks?

    Kalantar, I’m a bit confused by your confusion. What exactly am I being passive aggressive about?
    Lets start from basics I guess. If I have a moral position I guess its that abortion is a big moral deal. If you disagree with that, i.e., you can abort a fetus in the same way that you choose a cheeseburger over a chicken burger then yeah we have a moral disagreement. If the only thing a woman feels is relief after having an abortion then I would respectful say that she has not properly understood the gravity of the action she has taken. But thats fine, good people can agree to disagree.

    If one the other hand you agree that abortion is a complex, unfortunate, but also sometimes excusable ( and certainly should be legal) action then we are on the same page. Everyone makes these kinds of decision very often. Think about war, not pleasant, but sometimes excusable. Or more mundane, think about punishing your beloved children, not pleasant, but sometimes excusable, even “neccesary.” Even when you feel really bad for having sent them to bed without their desert. Or as a business owner I can’t pay my staff as much as I would like. Its not pleasant. Truely I wish I could, but it’s ( I hope) excusable, even neccesary, if I am to keep the business running and employ them at all. As I said before these are “the lesser of two evils” types of decisions that everyone makes nearly everyday. And when we have to make those kinds of decisions I think it is natural for us to feel some guilt even when we are sure that we have have chosen the “lesser evil.” I do.

    What I think is doubly unfortunate is that we live in societies in which people feel “forced” to make certain decisions. Katanlar I’m not sure what you mean when you say that I think its better for women to “go back.” But I am in total agreement with you that women do feel “forced” to have abortions because of the a, b, c, reasons that you outline. And that is precisely the problem.

    If you look through history most societies in which the individuals have abnegated responsibility for their own actions because they believed their society expected such behavior have been pretty unhealthy ones. Think of Germany during WWII. Or of female gential mutilation in parts of Africa today. Or even “double eyelid” plastic surgery in Korea today. Why did/do they do these things? Well because they felt/feel “forced” to.
    Now remember I don’t think that abortion is on par with genocide or cutting off clitorises but the point remains the same. Healthy (good?) societies shouldn’t make their members feel forced to make decisions that are either morally wrong or, as in the case of abortion or eyelid surgery, morally unclear. So when I see people justifying their actions, whatever that action may be, by saying “they felt they had no other option” when clearly they did, I am sad and curious as to why they are saying that.

    Aren’t you?


  7. I’m going to jump in here as much as I’d promised myself not to. I usually won’t touch discussions like this with a ten foot pole simply because people’s emotions tend to be quite intense regarding this issue.

    I cannot say that I agree with everything our fellow commenter above has said or say that the tone it was expressed in was always umm…persuasive? However, his comments have gotten me thinking and I feel that while it was not expressed in the best way to convince others, he’s made a good point in regards to ownership of decision making.

    Let’s try and look at things unemotionally and without questions of morality for a moment. The ultimate goal of pro-choice people and the majority of people that believe in women’s rights is for:

    -women to have full autonomy and control over their bodies (it’s my body, don’t tell me what to do with it, etc)
    -the stigma of unwed pregnancy, sex outside of marriage, and abortion to disappear from society
    -a normalized view and acceptance of abortion across general society

    I’d say these are the main ones. If I’ve missed the mark, my apologies. Now, if women truly want to accomplish these goals then they have to draw a clear line between recognizing and publicly addressing the wrongs of society against women and creating an overly victimized image of women.

    It is disturbing for women to say they feel “forced” because “forced” implies that the “choice” was not an empowered, autonomous guilt-free decision that the word “choice” usually implies. The article seems to be trying to improve the face of abortion to its readers by using an oxymoronic method. On the one hand it makes much of the victimization of women having abortions, presumably not only to show that such unjust societal stigmas and socio-economic difficulties exist, but also to cultivate sympathy in the reader. Kind of like saying “it’s not our fault! Don’t hate us for doing it”. On the other hand, the ultimate solution to all of this is for abortion to be normalized and accepted as something undeserving of the word “fault” at all. These two viewpoints don’t gel with each other.

    I would proposed that we have finally reached a point in the women’s rights movement (at least in the US) where we need to push beyond awareness of injustice, beyond letting people know we’re victims. We need to begin doing and living as we would have it be. If you want women to be able to talk about getting an abortion as freely as they talk about getting an unhealthy mole removed or changing jobs (or whatever important life-improving decisions you’d like to equate abortion to) then you can’t “come out” hiding behind a victimized image. If there’s truly nothing wrong with it and it’s truly an empowered and autonomous decision, undeserving of shame then why not act like it? Claiming that it’s a “forced choice” to do it undermines any attempts to normalize it in society. Furthermore, utterly denying the serious aspects and the negative feelings women experience when making that choice does nothing to defend women’s right to choose, it only signals an insecurity over its justification. If it’s right and just, there’s no need to not be real.

    Let me expand:

    I see nothing wrong or insulting with acknowledging that abortions are a serious matter and not decisions to be made lightly. Acknowledging such does not automatically imply guilt, shame, or immorality as some may jump to conclude. There are many grave decisions we all must make in life, and we often feel some kind of sadness or regret at the time of making such decisions. Afterwards, we may not regret having made it, and we may take ownership of that decision, but it doesn’t make it a happy one. You can regret that you ever had to take a certain action without regretting having taken it.

    It seems like over-leaping the mark to claim that women who have abortions are all just happy and dandy during and afterwards. While those studies quoted above show no long-lasting mental and emotional affliction after abortion it is not the same thing as saying they were joyous occasions. Take for example the university student that shared her abortion experience in a post on this website. To quote, “Overall, it was not that much of a traumatic experience, but I won’t ever be able to forget the little bowl. It saddens me even now (end).” This is not evidence of a long lasting mental/emotional burden, but it does illustrate that it wasn’t a decision she enjoyed having to make. I agree that there’s plenty of evidence to show the over-riding emotion of people post-abortion is relief, but that doesn’t mean there is no sadness mingled with it.

    There are many pro-choice advocates (including the author of this article) that acknowledge that a fetus is either a potential life or an actual life, but maintain for various reasons that it is still the woman’s right to choose whether it should be terminated or not. Taking this into account, I see nothing extraordinary or insulting about treating the decision to have an abortion as a somber matter. It is unnecessary to forfeit the autonomy and justification of the choice in order to confront its gravity.


    1. I think we are basically on the same page. As to my alleged “tone,” as a favor to me, please do let me know what exactly it is and which of my words conveyed it.


      1. Oh and how about this. You said “You can regret that you ever had to take a certain action without regretting having taken it.”

        Notice that even hear you throw, probably unintentionally, in the “had to take a certain action.” Why not take full ownership and say “No I didn’t *have to* make that choice I but I did because I feel that it was the least worst option out of the possible choices and even so I am sad because I recognize that what I did was less than ideal.”

        Maybe its being pedantic but, as you said claiming an action to be forced “undermines any attempts to normalize it in society.


        1. Alright man, I tried. I tried to defend you and I tried to be nice, but now I’m just insulted.

          You asked about your tone? Check out these gems:

          “Certainly blaming society has some potential psychological value in that it removes some level of responsibility from the aborter and hence lessens feelings of guilt. But I wonder if over time it is common for women who have had abortions to “face up” to their decision and take more ownership for it.”

          In this section your point about ownership of the decision is lost in all the condescending blame you put on top first. Rather than making the point that women’s use of a victimized image is valid (in that there are still many prevalent social injustices that women consider reasons for abortion) but ultimately un-empowering you turn it into a matter of shirking responsibility and shifting guilt.

          and here:
          “If its just a temporary coping mechanism fine, but I think that we should be careful about how long we support this conceit.”

          Again, you’re belittling the socio-economic injustices that very much play a part in a woman’s decision to abort, and her feelings of being ‘forced’ or ‘victimized’. Whilst such injustices are not wholly responsible for a woman’s decision nor is it healthy for her to identify as a victim, such injustices are real and valid concerns. The way you put it, it sounds like the whole thing is made up in the woman’s head in an attempt to runaway from feelings of guilt.

          But more than these, I was reflecting the general response to your posts. Obviously the things you wrote and the way in which you wrote them ruffled more than a few feathers of the other posters. However, I saw you had some good points that weren’t being listened to, so I thought I’d help by trying to state them in a more clear and neutral manner. I obviously think I did, but I’ll let you and others be the judge.

          As for your secondary comment, it looks like a petulant afterthought because your were insulted by my reference to your tone more than a valid point. But what the heck, I’ll get philosophical and explain myself anyway.

          To live is to act and to make choices. Even to not take action is actually an active choice one has to make. Unless you are dead, you must make choices just about every second of the day. I say must because, as I said before, even not making a choice is a choice. If you really want to be picky, every single thing we do, with the exception of functions of the autonomic nervous system, is a choice.

          So yes, a pregnant woman *has* to make a decision. She decides to keep it or she decides to abort it. Even if she does nothing that is making a choice. In no way does my use of the phrase “had to take” equate the more complex “forced choice” that you mention and that the article mentions. So let me rephrase:

          “You can regret that you ever got pregnant and had to choose what to do without regretting the choice you make” This statement can work both ways. A woman who gets pregnant unintentionally and keeps the baby could just as equally regret that she ever got pregnant without regretting her decision to keep the child. Sure, you can keep working it backwards if you want, but eventually you’ll hit a dead end.

          Look, I’ll even do it for you. Your counter-argument could be (excluding rape of course) that the woman chose to have sex which led to the pregnancy and thus to regret the pregnancy is to pawn off responsibility for the abortion. But, if you argue that way you’d have to agree that women should only have sex when they’re willing to take the risk of getting preggers. Which, you could do I suppose. Others certainly do. If you did you’d have to argue that men are also only meant to have sex for the purposes of reproduction. At which point the hypothetical men and women in question might shift their regret to having healthy sex drives. Do you see what happens if you follow this path of thought back long enough? You end up arguing against our very bodies and sex drives. And I don’t think anyone can argue that having a body with functioning reproductive organs and a sex drive is a choice. Of course, I acknowledge the biggest hole in this ridiculous line of thought is that having a healthy sex drive doesn’t equate acting on it. But the only choice if you want to go down that route is lifelong abstinence vs. never being allowed to regret an unintentional pregnancy lest you shirk your responsibility by doing so.

          Ultimately my point is, one can take full ownership of a decision and still feel regret about having come to a situation requiring that decision without regretting the outcome of said decision.

          Hope that clears things up for you. And now, unless I must defend my words against further ridiculousness I am done with this thing.


          1. Thanks for responding.

            Rather than petulant (really?) my last remark was simply asking if could agree with how I reworded your statement so that it was more clearly victim-less.

            I’m not sure its fair to read into some of my statements that I am “belittling” the socio-economic injustices that women face when I clearly state over and over that societies that make people (women in this case) feel “forced” to do certain actions are sick/bad/unhealthy.

            As to the second statement of mine that you quote lets break it down. First “If its just a temporary coping mechanism fine” What I meant here was in order to be sensitive, i.e. NOT to “belittle” women having abortions and in recognition that society is in many ways unfair to them it is fine/understandable why many women, again to use your words “use a victimized image.”. But again as you said, and in the second part of the my statement I said, ultimately not taking full ownership of the decision is dis-empowering and counter-productive for women.

            I think the “normalization” of abortion as you called it can only happen if we have a two pronged approach. One we should condemn societies in which many people (again in this case women) feel forced to do certain actions (abortions here). Read my above comments, I did that many times. And two at the same time we should empower women to resist such coercion by encouraging them to make confident and “fully owned” decisions even when they are hard ones as is the case with abortion.


  8. I will first admit that I’ve only skimmed the article and read the last two comments. Before reading the rest, I would like to very briefly address the question of “forced choice” and “feelings of relief” after an abortion.

    Like Maria pointed out in her post, making a decision to have or not have an abortion is a weighty matter and not one that is done lightly. Of the women I know who have had abortions, not one has made the decision quickly.

    In fact, that long, hard process of making the decision– of being torn between the question of being a mother or not being a mother–can be extremely stressful and difficult.

    Anyone who has ever struggled to make any major life decision can recognize and understand the torment that exists in indecisiveness. The horrible feeling of not knowing what you are going to decide- being sure of your decision one moment and questioning it the next. Indecisiveness produces a great deal of anxiety. I think we humans are hard-wired to feel it when we are faced with uncertainty in the future. We love to picture what our lives and futures will look like, but when we have entered the “valley of indecision,” we can’t do that. It’s like a whole part of ourselves– the future self– is no longer accessible.

    That being said, I strongly suspect that the relief reported by women who have had the abortion is the relief that is felt after any difficult decision is made. More of a “Phew, at least that’s over. Thank God, I don’t have to think about it any more. Right or wrong, I don’t care, at least it’s DONE.” It’s that overwhelming feeling of relief when you know that you’ve crossed the “decision line” and you can now move on with your life. If the reported feelings of relief were closely analyzed, I suspect that this would be, at the very least, a majorly contributing factor.

    As to the issue of the idea of “forced choice” in abortion– and again, I have to apologize for jumping in here before giving it all a thorough read-through–though I have skimmed– I should think the existence of forced choice should be quite obvious to everyone on both sides of this debate. The solution, however, is not to make abortion somehow “friendlier” or more acceptable, but to change the underlying issues “forcing” the choice. This includes better sex education, but it includes many, many other things as well. To claim that abortion, as it exists today across all societies, is an “empowering choice” for a woman is fantasy, pure and simple. In fact, I would argue that abortion– legal or not– is one of the most subtle tools we have of subverting women’s rights (or perhaps a better word would be “desires”) and collaborating with oppressive, patriarchal societal patterns.

    Anecdotally, I know at least 9 women who have had abortions, and 1 woman who was going to have an abortion but backed out at the last possible minute. In 5 of those 9 cases I know these women well enough to have known the circumstances surrounding the decision to abort. In one case, the issue was the life of the mother. In the other four cases, factors other than whether these women wanted to have children or not were heavily at play. Three of those remaining four cases included abuse and manipulation by the men involved. And the fourth case included unreliability of the father and extreme poverty of the family in general.


  9. Could you please, please please start using a different format for translated text? It’s not impossible to figure out what’s what. But I often get confused when there’s something you have written and then there’s some translated text next to it with the same format. Especially if I’m just scrolling through the article.


    1. Sorry, but I’m struggling to understand your difficulty. When I give posts with translations, 9 times out of 10 I’ll give my introduction, then the title of the translated article, then a paragraph of the Korean indented, then the translation not indented, and so on until the end (I usually write “end” too, especially if I give a final paragraph of my own commentary). On the rare cases I insert my own commentary in the middle of a translation, I’ll pretty clearly mark it out as my own too, either by italicizing it and/or at least putting “James – ” at the beginning (and there’s none at all in this post).

      So, sorry you’re having difficulty, but I don’t really know how I can make things any clearer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s