South Korea has moved from tacit approval of abortions to full-blown legalization. The country's Constitutional Court reversed its own 2012 ruling on April 11 and ordered the Korean Parliament to either revise the existing law by the end of 2020 or else the law will become null and void.
Multiple news sources are reporting the Court's actions will change little in the attitudes of South Korea's general population and law-enforcement entities. Both have treated women terminating their pregnancies and doctors performing the procedures as little more than scofflaws for decades.
According to the The Wall Street Journal, "The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea submitted more than one million signatures to the Constitutional Court last year urging it to uphold current laws. 'Abortion is a crime that kills the innocent life of an unborn, which cannot be justified for any reason.'"
Roughly 11% — 5.8 million individuals — of the South Korean population identifies as Catholic with 5,360 priests serving 1,734 parishes, according to 2017 figures provided by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK). The current albeit seldom-enforced law threatened up to a year in prison or a fine of $1,750 (2 million won) for women who obtain abortions. Doctors performing terminations faced incarceration for a maximum of two years.
However, The Wall Street Journal reports abortions are seldom prosecuted, citing South Korea human rights commission figures that only 10 indictments occur each year. Of those, only one indictment in the past five years resulted in a prison sentence.
An article in the Catholic World Report (CWR) quoted the CBCK's Cdl. Andrew Yeom Soojung's statement protesting the Constitutional Court's decision, arguing, "We should instead strengthen institutions that can help women healthily give birth to babies and raise them by recognizing a newborn's life as responsibility shared by both women and men, as well as society. ... Human dignity cannot be decided by majority vote or judged by socioeconomic standards."
The CBCK's statement, wrote CWR, "Decried the court's decision, reiterating the Church's stance against abortion.
The article continues, "A statement signed by Abp. Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, president of the bishops' conference, said the court decision denies vulnerable human beings of their basic right to life. It also stated that the ruling unjustly excludes men from their responsibility in unplanned pregnancies."
The current law outlawing abortion with the exceptions of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities or posing a serious threat to the mothers' health was instituted 66 years ago. The law was so seldom enforced, The Wall Street Journal writes, "A government-commissioned study in 2011 showed 43 percent of women aged 15 to 44 weren't aware of the country's abortion laws."
The New York Times adds:
In the 1970s and 1980s, as the government struggled to curtail population growth, it told families that "two children are one too many" and looked the other way as abortions became widespread.
In more recent years, however, the country has tried to reverse its falling birthrate, which is one of the lowest in the world, with an average of less than one child per woman. The government's attitude toward abortion has also shifted, with officials often calling it unpatriotic and threatening to crack down on the procedure.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Cha Hee-jae, head of March for Life Korea, expressing concern that abortions would become more prevalent without the law, saying, "The government has done nothing to limit abortions. What will happen if the law gets abolished? Abortions will only increase."
Korea's Ministry of Justice defended the ban on abortions, writes The New York Times, which quoted the bureau: "It is the state's duty to protect a fetus' right to life."