A conservative anti-government protester shouts slogans during an attempted rally in the central Gwanghwamun district of Seoul as South Korea marks Foundation Day on Oct. 3. (Photo: Ed Johns/AFP)
South Korea's government has adopted a draft law to legalize abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy, but Catholic bishops in the country said it violates the fetus's right to life.
The government on Oct. 7 adopted the bill that plans to ban abortion after 14 weeks of pregnancy except in the case of a sex crime or if it affects the mother's health or severe congenital disabilities for the fetus.
The law bans abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the Justice Ministry said.
Although the government has adopted the bill, the public have been given around 40 days to submit their views before it is sent to the National Assembly for approval.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea has been opposing the move to legalize abortion since August when the government was finalizing the draft bill.
In a letter submitted to President Moon Jae-in on Aug. 20, the bishops voiced their concerns about legalizing abortion. They said human life must be protected "from the very moment of conception."
The government began to amend the law prohibiting abortion in April 2019 when the South Korean Constitutional Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. It asked the government to legalize abortions by the end of 2020 or consider the abortion ban legally invalid.
The bishops said abortion is not the solution to issues related to marriage and pregnancy. Most such issues could be solved by changing the current social culture which makes "women solely responsible for pregnancy and childbirth," the bishops' conference said in a statement on Sept. 2 on its website.
The government decision will deny the fetus's right to life and will constitute an "act of renouncing the national obligation declared by the Constitutional Court," they said.
The Constitutional Court had said the blanket ban on abortion curbed women's rights and asked the government to piece together another progressive law.
In opinion polls conducted earlier, around three-quarters of South Koreans backed the move to legalize abortion.
South Korea had criminalized abortion in 1953 when the nation wanted to hike its population, but exceptions were introduced in 1973. In the early 1960s, the government kick-started a campaign to reduce the number of children per household to reduce population size.
Women who had abortions in South Korea faced a one-year jail term or a fine of up to 2 million won (US$1,780) while doctors or healthcare workers who helped terminate a pregnancy could be put behind bars for up to two years.
The fertility rate of 1.1 births per woman in South Korea is the lowest among 198 countries and falls short of the global average of 2.4, according to the United Nations Population Fund Report 2020.