|▲Women's groups are calling for the complete abolition of the abortion law. (License: gnnews)|
On October 7, the government announced that it will alter sections of both the Criminal Act and the Mother and Child Health Act that refer to abortion. In the amendment, the 40 week pregnancy period was divided into three trimesters: the first (1-14 weeks), the second (15-28 weeks), and the third (29-40 weeks). Within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, a pregnant woman can decide to get an abortion without need to provide any specific reason or counseling. A pregnant woman will be allowed to terminate their pregnancy between 15 weeks and 24 weeks of gestation for ‘social and economic reasons’. In these cases, women must attend consultation at designated facilities and wait for a 24-hour consideration period.
Other revisions removed ‘spousal permission for an abortion', which was criticized for violating women's right to self-determination. Minors under the age of 16 can be abortion with consultation document from a general counseling agency if they do not have a legal representative or are unable to obtain consent due to abuse. In addition, the use of medical abortion pills was allowed, which expanded options for surgical procedures, and also included a doctor's right to refuse to do an abortion based on personal beliefs.
So why is the revision on abortion controversial? Depending on how far along a pregnancy is, abortion can be a crime, so the criteria for which week an abortion is or is not legal should be clear. However, ultrasound and pregnancy dates based on the last menstrual date are only estimates. Depending on the length of the menstrual cycle or regularity, the last menstrual start date may vary, even if the day the embryo is fertilized or implanted is the same. As such, the problem remains of how to judge how far along a pregnancy is. As of now there are no regulations at all for the third trimester of pregnancy. For this reason, punishment can depend on the individual, so the criminal law is not clear or effective.
And it is not easy for pregnant women within 15 to 24 weeks to give proof of social and economic reasons for abortion. This is also difficult to judge because there are no objective standards. Detailed investigation to determine whether the social or economic reasons are those determined permissible by the law may delay surgery further and burden pregnant women. In the case of demanding a ruling due to a pregnancy that was a result of sexual violence, it takes longer for the abortion to be approved. In certain cases, such as when a pregnant woman was late to learn that she was pregnant or failed to raise money for the abortion within the first trimester, these situations are not considered in the revision.
Also, men are not held responsible for the pregnancy. If she has an abortion after the 14th week for other reasons, she alone will be punished. It is not fair or equal to make women solely responsible for pregnancies.
The government is reportedly planning to apply health insurance to all legal abortions. Under current law, only four special circumstances, such as being pregnant by rape, are covered by health insurance. However, some say that even though the revision makes all abortions within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy legal, it is still an optional procedure and should therefore not be covered by medical insurance.
Lee Yeon-ju, a student in the Department of English Language & Literature at Changwon National University, expressed her opinion on the abortion law, saying, "I would like to examine the purpose of the revision again and with the purpose of protecting the health of women in mind, not just for the purpose of punishment, rather than putting the both sides of the argument."
In the past, the revision of abortion laws has caused a lot of repercussions. Now, our society should discuss and change the issues that surround abortion laws, which existed as punishment regulations, and strive to address the right to life of the embryos and the right to self-determination of pregnant women. It is also necessary to examine the reconstruction of the system surrounding abortion in detail, keeping diverse perspectives in mind.
By Seo Hyo-Bin, cub reporter email@example.com
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