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Court makes landmark abortion ruling

Ruling allows prosecution of medical staff and mothers

Stephen Hong, Seoul

August 24, 2012

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By dismissing a petition filed by a midwife, the Constitutional Court confirmed yesterday that medical personnel can be prosecuted for conducting abortions. The midwife was appealing against a clause in the Criminal Act, which stipulates that doctors, midwives, or pharmacists performing abortions upon request will be punished by imprisonment or fine. The clause also states that a woman who affects her own miscarriage may be prosecuted. In making the ruling, the Court said that “the right to life is the most fundamental of human rights,” and that a women’s right of self-determination “is never more important than a fetus’ right to life.” It added that if the reasons for allowing an abortion were extended to include social or economic factors, it “would only make abortion more rampant and a trend to take life lightly more prevalent in society.” Currently, abortion is permissible in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest, certain kinds of genetic, mental or physical conditions of the parents, or if the mother’s health is in danger. Critics have said in the past that the government is lax in applying these criteria and allows abortion in a laissez faire manner. Church people welcomed the ruling while women’s groups have denounced it. Father Casimir Song Yul-sup, secretary of the Pro-Life Activities of the Korean bishops’ conference, told today: “As human dignity is based on life, the ruling is natural.” But Father Song regretted the Court’s comment that life begins from implantation, as he fears it could be employed “to justify the use of human embryos and in vitro fertilization.” He cited the Church’s teaching that human life begins from the moment of fertilization, and claimed that many biologists support that view. However Jung Seul-ah, a worker at Korean Womenlink, told the ruling deprived women of "the right to self-determination and to pursue their happiness.” She said the ruling “would not help reduce abortions, nor prevent the spread of the trend to take life lightly.” According to government statistics, 342,000 abortions were performed in 2005, a figure which dropped to 169,000 in 2010. Related reports Thousands protest against abortion Bishop calls for health act revision

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