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South Korean constitutional court eases abortion ban

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South Korean pro-lifers hold placards showing images of embryos during a rally supporting an abortion ban outside the constitutional court in Seoul on Thursday. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP

South Korean constitutional court eases abortion ban

South Korea’s constitutional court on Thursday ordered the country’s decades-old abortion ban to be lifted in a landmark ruling over a law that campaigners say puts women at risk.

South Korea remains one of the few industrialised nations that criminalises abortion, except for instances of rape, incest and when the mother’s health is at risk.

But the nine-member bench ruled by seven to two that the 1953 statute aimed at protecting lives and traditional values “goes against the constitution” and ordered the law to be revised by the end of next year.

“The abortion ban limits women’s rights to pursue their own destinies, and violates their rights to health by limiting their access to safe and timely procedures,” the court said in a statement.

“Embryos completely depend on the mother’s body for their survival and development, so it cannot be concluded that they are separate, independent living beings entitled to rights to life.”

Hugging and celebrating, hundreds of women – including teenagers and females with disabilities – cheered wildly in front of the Constitutional Court in central Seoul, where the official ruling was announced.

“Women deserve to be happy as much as we want to be today,” said activist Bae Bok-ju.

“Today’s decision was made because countless women ceaselessly fought for their rights for so many years. We deserve the world’s attention and we deserve its recognition,” Bae added.

Under the ban, women who underwent the procedure could face up to a year in jail and a fine, while doctors who performed the procedure was given two years in prison.

The 1953 law had been widely flouted and rarely resulted in prosecutions, but activists had claimed it left women facing being unable to pay for terminations, unsafe procedures and social ostracisation.