Controversial Book on Abortion in South Korea Triggers Debate


The recent publication of a book by twenty-five Korean women who had abortions has stirred up debate about the widespread, albeit illegal practice of abortion in South Korea.

The twenty-five women each told the story of their decision and the grief they have dealt with since going ahead with their procedures. Coverage by Seoul News pointed out the ‘inconvenient truth’ that, contrary to public opinion, most women who have abortions are married women, not unwed teenagers.

The women profiled in the new book talked about the discrimination they suffered from doctors, their peers, and their husbands. In the words of Jeong-min, an office worker in her forties, “Telling women they have to give birth no matter what without also changing our perceptions about single mothers or providing more support for them doesn’t make any sense.”

image by Lee Hye-son, Seoul Sinmun

Image by Lee Hye-son, Seoul News

Online reaction to the article called for better sex education in schools, although comments were sharply divided when it came to whose fault it was when a woman has an abortion.

Many readers criticised the twenty-five profiled women for their perceived selfishness, while others attacked men for being reluctant to use contraception.

From Seoul News:

No woman wants to have an abortion’…no human rights for women on the operating table

‘It was the saddest moment of my life. No woman wants to have an abortion.’

‘I Had An Abortion,’ published on February 20th by Women Link, an NGO devoted to women’s issues in South Korea, exposes the hidden suffering of twenty-five women. These women made the brave decision to step forward because they wanted to talk openly about the reality facing women who have had an abortion. In South Korea, abortion is a cause for controversy, as society forces a ‘scarlet letter’ on any women who makes the decision to have such an operation. In this atmosphere, women would rather remain silent than be publicly criticised. As the debate is tied up in issues of life and ethics, it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Is a fetus a life? At what week does life begin? IS abortion equivalent to murder?…

No one has an abortion because they wanted one. The women featured in the book talk about how they worried over the physical pain and the emotional cost before they made their final decision. The memory of the operation has also proved to be a terrible burden. 40-year-old Mi-young, an elementary school teacher, said that she will never be able to put the memories of her abortion out of her mind. ‘You feel the guilt of having killed a baby. Any time something bad happens to me, that guilt comes back. You feel like ‘am I being punished for having done something wrong?’ As long as I live, I will never be able to forget it.’

And yet the number of women who make the decision to climb on to the operating table is rising. According to the results of a 2010 nationwide survey of four thousand women likely to become pregnant, (those between the ages of fifteen and forty-four) by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 15.8 of every 1000 respondents said they had carried out ‘cessation of a pregnancy’, meaning they had an abortion. If results of the survey are extrapolated to the total population, in 2010, 170,000 babies in South Korea died before ever seeing the light of day.

Abortion remains officially illegal. According to South Korea’s ‘Mother and Child Health Law’, abortion is permitted when the child has a genetic or infectious disease, when the mother is a victim of rape ‘quasi-rape’ (meaning they were mentally unable to resist their rapist) or incest, and when there is a risk to the mother’s health. In addition, abortion in such cases can only be performed before the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy. In cases of illegal abortion, both the mother and the medical personnel involved are punished. Despite these legal restrictions, women who have experienced an abortion say, ‘there is no such thing as a hospital that does not perform abortions.’ Rather than reducing the number of abortions, criminalisation has only made the operations more expensive, secretive, and dangerous.

Women going through an abortion are consistently made to feel that they have done something wrong. Thirty-year-old translator Su-hyeon recalled, ‘the hospital just looks at it as a way to make money, all they think about is the price. The doctors acted like they were taking care of an irritating burden, I couldn’t believe anything could be that humiliating.’ Hye-jin, an athlete in her early forties, said that her doctor had told her, ‘you’ve got to be careful when you’ve got a body that gets pregnant easily. They lectured me like I was some kind of sex maniac. I apologised for my behavior but they just kept criticising me. It’s not as if I was asking them to do the surgery for free.’

Why do women decide to have an abortion? Many people consider abortions to be the result of ‘sexual impropriety’, however 57% of all abortions are performed on married women. Many married women decide to have an abortion because they cannot handle the costs involved with raising a child. 40-year-old Hee-young said that after having two children just one year apart, she decided to abort a third pregnancy. ‘the cost of childcare, diapers, and formula adds up to ₩2,500,000 a month. Because I work during the day, I have to leave my children with someone else, but that also made me feel bad. The economic cost I was facing made me feel trapped.’ Yoo-jin, a homemaker in her thirties, said, ‘my husband makes ₩3-4,000,000 a month working at a small company, which is barely enough to support raising two children. There just wasn’t enough to feed and clothe a third child.’

Unmarried women featured in the book also confessed how they were worried about the whispers that would have followed them, since the prejudice against a ‘maiden’ getting pregnant outside of marriage remains strong. Min-jeong, a hagwon teacher in her thirties, said that she just could not bring herself to tell anyone that she had gotten pregnant. ‘People have sex before marriage. You don’t have to be having sex all the time or doing it in a depraved way to get pregnant, yet when single women get pregnant they feel such guilt. People are just so conservative and perverted when it comes to sex, when they hear that you got pregnant, they look at you like ”she must have been getting it on all the time.’’

The women also expressed concern over the ridicule their child would face for being a ‘kid with no dad’. Forty-year-old civil servant Hye-ran said, ‘no one would go through with the surgery if they thought their child could succeed regardless of the circumstances of his birth. But our society discriminates against people from the day they are born on the basis of who their parents are, how they got pregnant, whether they were married, their sexual orientation, and where they went to school. ‘Telling women they have to give birth no matter what without also changing our perception of single mothers or providing better support systems for them doesn’t make any sense,’ said Jeong-min, an office worker in her forties, ‘such an approach is both irresponsible and cruel to the mother and to the child.’

A society’s conservative outlook on sex and a lack of sex education can also be considered a contributing factor. Mi-young explained that she had been using a natural contraception method when she became pregnant. ‘I was too embarrassed to tell him to wear a condom. I thought carrying around condoms would look like I was thinking about sex all the time. Telling him to put on a condom would have made me appear easy or like I had a lot of experience.’ Another women profiled in the book described a similar thought process. Her sexual education in school only covered sexual anatomy for men and women and the process of how a fertilised egg becomes a baby, skipping any mention of sex itself. ‘My husband just told me to take of it. He said he didn’t like the feeling of a condom. We used the rhythm method and he tried to always finish outside of me, but in the end, I got pregnant.’

Opponents of abortion also support expanding services to new and single mothers. Choe Jeong-yoon, the Director of Operations at Korea Pro-life, stated that, ‘a neglect for the value of human life, prohibitively expensive childcare, and fear of the discrimination against unmarried parents all factor into the decision to have an abortion… We need to create the infrastructure in our society that will allow all parents to raise their children safely.’

Comments from Daum:


Contraception and abortion are completely different things.. If you really love someone, then you should be able to talk about contraception and avoid this tragedy


Reading the comments, it looks like there are still a lot of despicable people out there who treat women like objects. I can’t tell if they are human beings or pieces of garbage, stop trying to twist the knife when people are in pain. Please try to love yourself and meet someone who will treat you with respect.


We need to have better sex education in our schools about pregnancy and contraception. I have no idea why there is still such a lack of information in our schools.


Wear a condom you selfish bastards


We have got to reevaluate how we look at this, 57% of abortions are being done on married women… only 1.1% of people who get abortions do it because ‘I was still a teenager’..


How can you not know about contraception at the age of forty? A simple web search shows hundreds of resources for information about contraception. Don’t blame other people when the fault lies with you. Don’t act so helpless, the real sad cases are the children who you threw into the garbage can. If you’re having your fun then you also need to take responsibility tsk tsk


You have the same responsibility whether you’re a man who doesn’t use contraception or a woman who gets it on without planning ahead


Your husband makes ₩3-4,000,000 a month and you couldn’t stand to take care of a third child? How can you take care of a household? People making even less manage to make ends meet and take care of more than three children..You got an abortion just because you couldn’t think of anyone besides yourself…


This article makes it seem like it is solely the man’s responsibility to bring contraception. It should be the responsibility of both people. Before you tell the man to wear a condom, how about trying to use the female version? Men who say they hate the feeling of a condom should get a vasectomy, bunch of selfish people


Make sure to use your girlfriend cleanly and not leave a mess for the next man


This isn’t just the responsibility of women. Don’t men also need to think about contraception? Just a little forethought can make you a more decent human being.


When it comes to women, even if they are over the age of forty, if they want to sleep with someone, all they have to do is use some of the dirty words they learned in high school and giggle..But if a guy like me were to ever do something like that, they would just think I’m a filthy pervert.

즐거운 인생:

Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, use contraception. It’s good when you’re having fun, right? Some clueless individuals are putting all of the responsibility on the man when women act like they have no idea what a birth control pill is or think a condom is a balloon. Get your heads straight, it would be so much better if you changed the way you look at things.


What are you talking about? Women have abortions because they want them. Stop trying to call it something else or go on about their sensitive feelings ke ke ke On message boards for woman and feminists they talk all about how to get an abortion. Rather than giving any thought to the baby they all just worry about how it will affect their figure or which hospital to go to for an inexpensive abortion ke ke ke


What a bunch of excuses..Why didn’t you use contraception? If you thought it was risky, then just don’t have sex. All trying to find excuses to justify their behavior. Except for cases of rape, you can always avoid abortion.


While I think that there definitely should be sex education and more teaching about contraception, I also think that legalising abortion for people who want it would be better than the current situation. Legal abortions would be a lot better than having women throw away babies after an unwanted pregnancy.


It may have changed recently but it certainly is an inconvenient truth that more abortions are had by married women than unmarried. Even given that it is hard to find out the exact number of abortions carried out by single women, the rate of abortion by married women was also much higher a long time ago. Back then, the reason was a wife’s fear about another pregnancy or a desire to maintain the proper age spacing between siblings. In any case, even married couples with children didn’t use contraception. The problem isn’t delinquent teenagers who get pregnant by mistake and who never got proper sex education. The problem is also the parents who don’t know how to control themselves.

즐거운 인생:

Upvote this if you think that an unwanted pregnancy is the man’s fault, downvote if you think it is the woman’s fault. [Comment had 108 upvotes and 62 downvotes].


Abstinence would make the mother and the child happy..this is a shame


This is ridiculous, you are all trying to claim that it’s the other person’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of both the man and the woman! Be careful!

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