The top court of South Korea has ordered the government to decriminalize abortion in the country and reform the country’s highly restrictive abortion laws by the end of 2020.
The current legal system that criminalizes the practice in most cases was challenged by a doctor who has been prosecuted for carrying out abortions.
The Constitutional Court told the National Assembly to reform the law by 31 December 2020.
Under the existing laws, women who terminate a pregnancy can face fines of up to 2 million won ($1,850) or one year in jail. Medical professionals who assist with abortions can face prison terms of up to two years if convicted.
Only exceptions allowed are in the cases of rape, incest, severe genetic disorders, specific diseases or if a woman’s or girl’s health is endangered by the pregnancy.
“Today’s ruling is a major step forward for the human rights of women and girls in South Korea. The country’s draconian laws have resulted in discrimination and stigmatization for generations of women and girls by forcing them to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortions,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director.
“We urge the government to swiftly reform the Criminal Act and ensure access to safe and legal abortion services. The highly restrictive and punitive laws must change so that the health of women, girls and others who can become pregnant is no longer put at risk for fear they or the medical professionals that help them could be punished.”