South Korea court rules government should set out law allowing abortion access

A recent survey conducted by the Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs found that 19.9 percent of women who have been pregnant at least once have had an abortion.

Religious belief is widespread in South Korea, and some of its evangelical mega-churches are among those defending the ban. The country's draconian laws have resulted in discrimination and stigmatisation for generations of women and girls by forcing them to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortions. If lawmakers fail to pass a related bill, Articles 269 and 270 of the Criminal Code will become invalid.

But the nine-member bench ruled by seven to two that the 1953 statute aimed at protecting lives and traditional values "goes against the constitution" and ordered the law to be revised by the end of next year. In 2012 the law survived a previous challenge when the court was split evenly, four to four, with one seat unfilled at the time. "We deserve the world's attention and we deserve its recognition", Bae added. "Now the National Assembly needs to move without delay to revise the law in line with this far-reaching court verdict and ensure women's rights are protected in law".

About 15 pro-women's rights activists shouted "Abolish the anti-abortion law" near the court's entrance earlier Thursday.

Only a few meters away, scores of anti-abortion activists denounced the decision, shouting, "Protect fetus' human rights".

In a statement, it said the ban, as well as a law making doctors liable to criminal charges for abortions done with the woman's consent, were both unconstitutional.

Housewife Mok Youn-hee was in tears and said she was "heartbroken" by the court decision.

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Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, when a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes her health, or when she or her male partner has certain diseases. "I believe this ruling frees women from one shackle that had been suffocating them", said Kim Su-jung, a lawyer representing the plaintiff, a doctor who was charged under the law with conducting 69 illegal abortions.

In 2017, a high school student told a rally in Seoul she had been forced to end her education after having an abortion.

"The abortion ban limits women's rights to pursue their own destinies, and violates their rights to health by limiting their access to safe and timely procedures", the court said in a statement.

Joon said that his side would not give up the anti-abortion crusade.

A historic decision in favor of the pro-choice movement had been widely anticipated, given the change in the composition of the Constitutional Court.

Moon, a liberal, appointed five of the current constitutional court justices, raising hopes that the abortion ban would be overturned, with the court's chief justice among those who had come out publicly in favour of change. A survey by polling firm Realmeter last week found that more than 58 percent of South Korean respondents favored scrapping the ban, while a little over 30 percent wanted to keep it. In a survey by pollster Realmeter released last week, 58.3 percent of respondents favored abolishing the abortion ban, a number that rose from 51.9 percent since just November of previous year.

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