In a major reversal, South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the easing of the country’s decades-long ban on abortions, one of the strictest in the developed world. Abortions have been largely illegal in South Korea since 1953, though convictions for violating the ban are rare.
Still, the illegality of abortions forces women to seek out unauthorized and often expensive surgeries to end their pregnancies, creating a social stigma that makes them feel like criminals.
The court’s nine-justice panel said that the parliament must map out legislation to ease the current anti-abortion regulations by the end of 2020. It said the current abortion ban will be repealed if the parliament fails to come up with new legislation by then.
An easing of the ban could open up the door to more abortions for social and economic reasons. Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, or when a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes her health, or when she or her male partner has certain diseases.
A woman in South Korea can now be punished with up to one year in prison for having an abortion, and a doctor can get up to two years in prison for performing an abortion.