Women on Web and South Korea

Constitutional court legalises abortion

On 11 April 2019, the constitutional court in South Korea ruled the current abortion law in South Korea to be unconstitutional. The abortion law will be automatically nullified from January 1 th 2021, the court's ruling dictates.

The court said in a statement the outright ban on abortion, as well as a law that made doctors who conduct abortions with the woman’s consent liable to criminal charges, were both unconstitutional.

The law criminalizing a woman who undergoes abortion of her own will goes beyond the minimum needed to achieve the legislative purpose and limits the right of self-determination of the woman who has become pregnant,” the court said in its ruling.



Until December 31 th, 2020 abortion in South Korea was regulated by chapter 27 of the Criminal Code of 1953. An addendum was made in 1973 - the Mother and Child Health Act - which permits abortion within 24 weeks, when the pregnant woman or her partner suffers from a hereditary - mental or physical - disease, or from a communicable disease specified by the Presidential Decree. In case of rape, incest or when the pregnancy is endangering the health of the woman, a pregnancy is permitted to be terminated as well.

Nonetheless, there has been a discrepancy for many years between the Korean abortion law and the number of abortions that were performed illegally in Korea without facing consequences. The law concerning abortion procedures in South Korea was not strongly enforced until 2010, when the Minister of Health and Welfare suggested to enforce the Korean law regarding the executions of abortions more strictly in order to address the low fertility rate.

In 2012, after a midwife who was charged with performing an illegal abortion filed an appeal in 2012, the Constitutional Court's 4:4 decision allowed it to stand. 

A recent survey by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs found that more than 75% of women aged 15 to 44 believed the law should be amended. In 2017, more than 230,000 people signed a petition to legalise abortion. 


In 2018 Women on Web visits South Korea at the invitation of abortion rights groups

At the invitation of the coalition of abortion rights groups of South Korea, Dr. Gomperts, director of Women on Web, visited Seoul on 5,6 and 7 July 2018

The visit started with a joint press conference in the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center. In the afternoon there was a joint presentation in the Korean National Assembly titled  "From criminalizing abortion to sexual and reproductive health and rights"  Many civil society groups and politicians attended. 

Dr Jungwon Yoon presented her research concerning the data of the women from South Korea who used the Women on Web abortion service. 

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts presented the worldwide abortion rights situation and the work of Women on Waves and Women on Web.

On 6 July, there was a screening of Vessel followed by an event called Talkfest, which featured several presentations about the history and current state of the abortion rights movement in South Korea and the rest of the world.

On Saturday 7 July Baum a l'ame launched their book about their experiences traveling around Europe to learn more about the history and current situation of abortion rights in Europe. 

At 5 in the afternoon there was a large "Abolition of Abortion Law Parade" organised by Monakfe, the coalition of abortion rights groups of South Korea. Thousands of people participated in the parade.

The Constitutional Court said early August 2018 that it would indefinitely delay its ruling on the constitutionality of the abortion ban, citing a recent judiciary reshuffle as the main reason.

Shortly afterward the Health Ministry announced a new rule, which enables the authorities to suspend a medical license for one month for performing an abortion.

The new rule went into effect on Aug. 17,2018  and on the same day, abortion was included in the list of what the government legally defines as “immoral medical actions,” along with dispensing medications past their date of expiration and committing sexual harassment against patients, among other actions. 


Abortion pill protest in Seoul, South Korea 

On August 26 th, 125 women swallowed the abortion pill in defiance of the restrictive abortion laws in South Korea. Even though abortion is illegal in South Korea, 125 women have an abortion every hour. The protest took place in front of Boshingak in the center of Seoul. It was organized by the Korean feminist organizations Femidangdang and Baumealame, in collaboration with Women on Waves and Women on Web. The facebook post announcing the action and calling for mobilization was censored by Facebook and removed. 


South Korean Gynaegologists on strike

Just a few days later on august 28, 2018 one of the biggest professional organizations of obstetricians and gynecologists in South Korea announced its members have discontinued performing abortions, except legally allowed procedures, in spite of existing demand in protest of the government’s latest law revision that imposes harsher punishments on doctors who perform the illegal but common procedure in the country.

The decision is estimated to affect many women in the country, where some 3,000 abortions are said to be performed daily -- in spite of the procedure being illegal.  

“We apologize to the citizens, and especially (the women) who will be affected by our decision,” said Kim Dong-suk, the head of the Korean College of Ob & Gyn, an organization representing some 2,000 obstetricians and gynecologists.
“But we want to make it clear that the Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible for this situation, and other upcoming consequences, which we think are far from ideal,” Kim said.

“Meanwhile, Women on Web, an international online abortion help service based in the Netherlands, says at least 2,500 Korean women have aborted using abortion pills, which are illegal in Korea, through their service since 2010.

On September 4 th we were informed that there was a blocked on the www.womenonweb.org website warning Korean women that the side was illegit.


Media coverage of Women on Web in South Korea: 

Media Abortion Pill Action in South Korea