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[EDITORIAL] Abortion debate

A group of obstetrician-gynecologists who oppose abortion filed a complaint with the prosecution against three ob-gyn clinics for performing illegal abortions.
The Pro-Life Doctors, a group of ob-gyn doctors formed last December to encourage doctors to stop performing illegal abortions, said that it decided to take action because the government was not doing its duty to enforce the law, which bans most abortions.
No one would argue against the Pro-Life Doctors` goal of creating a society that respects life. However, the way it is approaching the issue potentially threatens the health and life of women who will resort to back-alley abortions if the government suddenly clamps down on abortions.
Laws here ban abortions except in few instances, such as when the pregnancy seriously threatens a woman`s life, when a woman has been raped, or when there is hereditary illness. Both doctors and women who seek illegal abortions face prison terms of up to two years.
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Yet, the vast number of abortions performed each year -- a 2005 government survey showed that some 350,000 abortions are performed annually -- belies the illegality of abortions. For far too long, our society has looked the other way while doctors and women were breaking the law. The truth of abortion in Korea is probably too "inconvenient" for everyone.
In fact, our society has never had a meaningful discussion about abortion. We took the "convenient" path of declaring abortion illegal but making abortion widely available. It is time that the abortion issue was brought out into the open.
Women`s advocacy groups accused the Pro-Life Doctors of turning their backs on the desperation of women who resort to abortions. Korean Women`s Associated United, representing 11 women`s groups, issued a statement saying that the Pro-Life Doctors filing a complaint with the prosecution ignores women`s rights to control their body and their reproductive rights.
Women have the right to exercise control over their fertility and the decision to continue with a pregnancy or to terminate it should be a personal one. Legalizing abortions is not the same as advocating abortions. Legalizing abortion means making safe abortions available when women need an abortion. In fact, many pro-choice advocates say that abortion should be a measure of last resort.
Women`s rights groups claim that more than 90 percent of abortions in Korea stem from socio-economic needs. In many instances, women seek abortions because they do not want more children, do not have the financial means to raise a child or because of the social mores that condemn having children born out of wedlock.
As such, the demand for abortions will not be reduced unless the society changes its attitudes and the government can provide realistic alternatives to abortions. If all illegal abortions are clamped down on right now without these changes first taking place, women will be forced to seek back-alley abortions, putting their lives in peril.
As the society begins discussing abortion, how the issue is framed will be very important. The government, faced with a record low birthrate, said last year that it would clamp down on illegal abortions as a means to raise the birthrate. Many pro-life ob-gyn doctors have framed the issue around the viability of ob-gyn practices, claiming that the current national health insurance scheme forces doctors to perform illegal abortions to keep their practices afloat.
These approaches neglect the fact that women have the right to control their bodies. Any discussion on abortion should begin with the recognition of individual liberty and reproductive rights.
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