• Press Release

South Korea: Stop criminalization of abortion

October 28, 2016

The South Korean government must withdraw proposed rules that would increase the penalty for doctors who perform illegal abortions, said Amnesty International, ahead of mass demonstrations planned by women’s rights groups on 29 October.

On 23 September, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a revision of a rule on “inappropriate medical practices” that could increase the penalty for doctors performing illegal abortions from the current one-month suspension of business to a possible maximum of 12 months.

“This proposal, if enacted, would only perpetuate the existing criminalization of abortion in South Korea and is an obvious regression in the fight for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. Decisions about their bodies and health should be made by the women and girls’ themselves, in consultation with their doctors, and not by politicians or officials,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“The new rules would likely have a chilling effect on doctors, undermining their ability to provide adequate medical care, information and advice to their patients, and thus putting women's and girls' health and lives at risk.”

After the announcement, women’s right groups immediately condemned the government’s proposal and have been urging the government to not only refrain from increasing penalties for health care professionals, but to de-criminalize abortion overall, as well as holding a “Black Protest” similar to the massive protests in Poland since the start of October.

South Korean law bans abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, severe genetic disorders or if a woman’s or girl’s health is endangered by the pregnancy. In these limited instances, abortions must be performed within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Amnesty International calls on states to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances, so that no woman is subject to penalties of any kind for having or seeking an abortion, and opposes the criminalization of health care providers and others if they are arrested, detained, charged, prosecuted, convicted, or subject to penalties solely for providing or attempting to provide abortion services.