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South Korea

Korean lay groups petition court to keep anti-abortion law

As Constitutional Court prepares to review the legislation on May 24, two groups lobby against decriminalization

ucanews.com reporter, Seoul

ucanews.com reporter, Seoul

Published: May 18, 2018 04:34 AM GMT

Updated: May 18, 2018 04:52 AM GMT

Korean lay groups petition court to keep anti-abortion law

Augustine Sohn Byeong-seon, chairperson of the Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Korea (center), submits a petition asking the Constitutional Court of South Korea not to decriminalize abortions. (Photo by The Catholic Times of Korea)

Amid growing calls to legalize abortion in South Korea, the Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Korea (CLAK) and the Catholic Women's Organization of Korea petitioned the Constitutional Court to maintain the nation's strict anti-abortion law on May 11.

The petitions were submitted by Augustine Sohn Byeong-seon, who serves as chairman of the CLAK, and Elizabeth Park Hyun-sun, president of the Catholic Women's Organization of Seoul Archdiocese.

"Koreans recognize the dignity of life from the moment of conception," one of the petitions read.

Referring to the anti-abortion law mapped out in a key Constitutional Court ruling in 2012, it said this should not be overruled by the argument that women deserve the right to decide whether to conceive after becoming pregnant.

"We decided to turn in the petition to show that the church is still opposed to the legalization of abortion," said Augustine Sohn.

"I hope the judges listen to the calls from the Korean lay Catholics as they caution society against trying to assess the value of a human life, as human life is of paramount importance."

The court is due to review the legislation on May 24.

Defenders of the law are concerned it may be influenced by an online petition signed by 235,000 people that was submitted to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae in September 2017 calling for abortion to be legalized.

Cho Kuk, the senior presidential secretary of civil affairs, responded in November by pledging improved sex education for teenagers and more support for single mothers and adoptive families. 

Abortion remains a sensitive issue in South Korea, where women can face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to US$1,820 for having one conducted illegally. Yet rights groups argue that illegal abortions are still widely available with prosecutions rare. 

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Abortions are only legally sanctioned in the country in cases of rape, incest, when the parents cannot legally wed, if delivery would threaten the mother's health, or if either of the parents have one of a number of communicable diseases. All abortions are illegal after 24 weeks regardless of the circumstances.

When the issue of challenging the law arose six years ago, the Constitutional Court voiced its continued support by saying, "Pregnant women's right to self-determination should not overrule the fetus' right to life."

Earlier this year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) lodged a similar petition to the ones filed this week featuring over 1 million signatures.

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