Alarm Over Low Birthrates Brings Official Attention to Abortion in South Korea

Sophia Lee | WORLD News Service | Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Alarm Over Low Birthrates Brings Official Attention to Abortion in South Korea

Alarm Over Low Birthrates Brings Official Attention to Abortion in South Korea

(WNS) -- South Korea is mired in contradictions when it comes to abortion. Abortion there is illegal, and has been since 1953 for all cases except rape, incest, or severe genetic disorder — and last year South Korea’s highest court upheld the ban. But for six decades abortions have been common and cheap, costing only about $200.

South Korea has had one of the highest abortion rates in the world — largely because the government has ignored the problem. A 2005 study estimated that South Korea had about 340,000 abortions a year in a population of 50 million: That’s about double the U.S. rate. Only 30 cases have come to court, and most led to puny fines and probation instead of the heavy fines and prison sentence the law mandates.

The law hasn’t changed, but the government’s position has. A generation ago South Korean officials worried about the country’s increasing population. South Korea’s birthrate hovered at 4.5 children per woman in the 1970s. The government even offered men exemption from mandatory army reserve duty in exchange for free vasectomies.

Now, with South Korea’s birthrate dipping to 1.19 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world, officials want more babies. In 2009, President Lee Myung-bak called for “bold” steps to increase the nation’s birthrate. The government started blaring public service announcements saying, “With abortion, you are aborting the future.”

The South Korean pro-life movement is also growing. The most vocal group is an organization of obstetricians and gynecologists called Gynob, spearheaded by Seoul obstetricians Shim Sang-duk and Choi Anna. Shim in 2009 stopped doing abortions and held a press conference with other abortionists to ask for forgiveness. Then he essentially sent a cease and desist message to fellow obstetricians, beseeching them to stop all abortion practices — or he and other pro-life doctors would report their illegal abortions to judicial authorities.

Shim said he received trickles of support from Christian churches but “severe criticisms” from his fellow doctors and from feminists. Shim’s Ion Women’s Clinic has suffered financially since the cash flow from abortion ceased: “Even so,” Shim said, “I don’t regret my decision in the least.”

Shim, who is nonreligious, said he “sold his soul” by performing about 4,000 abortions in the past 20 years. He decided to stop when he could “no longer deny the cost of tragic destruction to unborn victims, women, and the sanctity of medical profession.” He has “faith that one day medical professionals in South Korea will reform and practice their profession with self-dignity and pride.”

c. 2013 WORLD News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: January 15, 2013