The presidential office said last Sunday the government will conduct a fact-finding survey on abortion next year for the first time in eight years.
In a video posted on the top office’s Facebook page, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Cho Kuk said the survey will seek to accurately identify current conditions regarding abortion and why abortions take place. He added that discussions on this issue are expected to move forward with the survey results.
Cho’s remarks came 28 days after a petition calling for scrapping the nation’s anti-abortion law posted on the top office’s Web site received support from more than 200-thousand people.
With more people signing the petition, public interest is rising but as abortion is an extremely sensitive issue in religious and moral terms, even the medical community is not presenting a unified opinion.
The government had conducted a fact-finding survey on abortion every five years but hasn’t carried one out since 2010.
Abortion in South Korea is a criminal offense subject to a maximum one-year prison sentence or a fine of up to two million won.
Doctors who perform or assist the procedure, regardless of patient's consent, are subject to heavier penalties.
There are exclusions though allowed under the Mother and Child Health Act. Abortion can be conducted in the following four cases: first, if the mother or spouse has certain hereditary disorders or communicable diseases; second, in the cases of rape or incest; third, if the parents are blood relatives who cannot marry under Korean law; and fourth, when the pregnancy seriously threatens the mother's health.
Though abortion is a punishable crime, the procedure openly takes place.
According to a government survey, 342-thousand abortions took place in 2005, dropping to 169-thousand in 2010. Only six percent of abortions in 2010 were legal, while charges were brought about in just ten or so cases that year.
The Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has questioned the accuracy of the government survey showing that the number of abortions reduced to half in five years. The group believes an average 3,000 operations take place every day.
More concerning is teen abortion. In a 2009 survey conducted by the association, over 85 percent of middle school students who experienced pregnancy said they had an abortion.
Doctors take issue with the outdated law that only lays blame on women and physicians. They argue the Mother and Child Health Act and the criminal code punishing abortion have been maintained without revision for 44 years.
Supporters of abortion focus on women's health and rights, while opposers emphasize the sanctity of the fetus’ life.
Religious and moral beliefs also play a big part.
With the petition gaining support, the Catholic Church has launched an anti-abortion campaign.
Overseas, 80 percent of OECD member nations allow abortion, including for social and economic reasons.