Seoul, Apr 11: The South Korean Constitutional court on Thursday scrapped the country's 66-year-old abortion ban saying it was unconstitutional to bar women from terminating a pregnancy in its early stages as it prevented them from making their own decision on personal matters.
In a seven-to-two decision, the court ruled that Articles 269 and 270 of the Criminal Act, which sentences women who have abortions to up to one year in jail or a 2 million won ($1,750) fine, and doctors who carry them out to up to two years in prison, were unconstitutional.
To prevent any confusion from a sudden removal of the ban, the court ordered the National Assembly to revise relevant laws by Dec. 31, 2020 to allow abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, with detailed regulations such as how many weeks into a pregnancy an abortion should be permitted, The Korea Times reported.
Korea bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest, the high chance of birth defects or significant health risks for the woman.
Justice Seo Ki-seok said "Banning all abortion, save for a few exceptions specified by the Mother and Child Health Law, forces women to continue pregnancies and give birth, limiting their right to self-determination.
"The exceptions outlined by the Mother and Child Health Law fail to take into account diverse and extensive socioeconomic reasons behind abortions, such as its effect on a woman's academic or workplace career, and financial problems such as an insufficient income or resources to raise a child."
The case was brought to the Constitutional Court in February 2017 by an OB-GYN doctor who was criminally charged for carrying out abortions for women. The doctor claimed the ban was against women's right to pursue happiness in terms of planned pregnancies and access to a safe medical procedure.
According to a survey by the Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), one in five pregnant women said they underwent the procedure.
The ban has been also criticized for punishing only women but not their male partners. There have been numerous cases where partners have held women hostage by threatening to report their abortion to the authorities.
The last time the Constitutional Court ruled on the abortion ban in 2012, it upheld the ban, saying not punishing abortion as a criminal offense may "lead to more abortions."