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“Abortion Should Not Be a Crime,” Says NHRCK in Its Opinion to Speaker of National Assembly
- Retaining criminal penalties for abortions is a violation of women’s fundamental rights; National Assembly should conduct an extensive review of amendments to the existing laws for decriminalization of abortion-
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Young-ae Choi) stated in an opinion to the Speaker of the National Assembly regarding the draft amendments to the Criminal Act and the Mother and Child Health Act that treating abortion as a criminal offense is a violation of women’s rights to self-determination, health and life as well as their reproductive rights and that the National Assembly should work to pass amendments that legalize abortions.
The government has drafted an amendment to the Criminal Act, following the Constitutional Court’s decision in April 2019 that finds Articles 269(1) and 270(1) of the Act, which deal with self-induced abortions and abortions by medical practitioners respectively, unconstitutional. The amendments retain criminal penalties for abortions, but specify certain conditions under which abortions are allowed.
The Commission notes that making abortion a criminal offense has had a lot of negative consequences, including forcing women to turn to unsafe methods and infringing upon their right to self-determination and right to health, rather than fulfilling the original purpose of reducing abortions. The government should stop penalizing women for abortions and draw up measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place, while seeking more fundamental solutions including creating a social and economic environment that encourages women to have children.
The United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies such as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have clearly stated their objection to the criminalization of abortions and stressed that abolishing criminal punishment for abortions is an essential element of protecting women’s rights to self-determination, health, equality, non-discrimination and dignity.
In this context, the Commission presents its view to the Speaker of the National Assembly that retaining criminal penalties for abortions not only infringes on women’s fundamental rights, but also conflicts with the stance of the UN and other international organizations that supports decriminalization of abortion. The Commission further calls on the National Assembly to conduct a complete review of abortion-related provisions to abolish criminal punishment and introduce amendments that enable women to exercise their human rights such as the right to self-determination and right to health through medical and social assistance from the government.