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South Korea Constitutional Court overturns abortion ban

South Korea Constitutional Court overturns abortion ban

South Korea's constitutional court on Thursday ordered the country's decades-old abortion ban to be lifted in a landmark ruling over a law that campaigners say puts women at risk.

The court said that the criminal code, which bans abortions in the early stages of pregnancy and imposes criminal punishment, is unconstitutional as it excessively infringes on pregnant women's right to self-determination by giving a one-sided and absolute advantage only to the public interest of protecting the life of the fetus. The nine judges gave the parliament in Seoul until the end of 2020 to come up with legislation to roll back the current restrictions. South Korea remains one of the few industrialised nations that criminalises abortion, except for instances of rape, incest and when the mother's health is in jeopardy.

Previously, the Constitutional Court upheld the abortion ban in 2012.

"If the case does not fall under an exemption, the law forces the pregnant woman to maintain the pregnancy completely and uniformly, without exception", the court said.

While convictions for violating the ban have been rare, the illegality of abortion means women are forced to seek out expensive and unauthorised procedures, creating a social stigma. Outside the court in downtown Seoul, hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue gathered to await the decision. An estimated 49,764 abortions took place in 2017, but about 15 criminal cases annually were brought against providers in recent years, according to the survey and prosecutors.

The court said that abortion should be allowed before 22 weeks of pregnancy, citing an academic report that the fetus is able to survive independently after 22 weeks of pregnancy if supported by medical technology.

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The court decision also comes at a time when South Korea is struggling to cope with a low birth-rate.

An easing of the ban could open up the door to more abortions for social and economic reasons.

"Today's decision was made because countless women ceaselessly fought for their rights for so many years". We won!" and "New world! It also set terms of up to two years in jail and seven-year licence suspensions for medical professionals, including doctors, who provided abortions at the woman's request. If no revision is made by the deadline, the abortion ban will automatically lose its legal effect starting January 1, 2021.

A survey conducted past year by the Korean women's developmentinstitute found that one in five women who have been pregnant had had an abortion.

Yet between 2014 and 2018 only 64 abortion cases were prosecuted, with nearly all resulting in suspended sentences or probation, according to data from the prosecutor's office published in the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

Justices Cho Yong-ho and Lee Young-jin, who voted the provision constitutional, noted that the fetus is also subjected to the constitutional right to life, and expressed the opinion that the state can prohibit abortion to fulfill the national task of realizing the dignity for human beings.