Oct 19, 2016

    We're not baby breeding machines: Seoul protesters

    HUNDREDS of people, dressed in black, marched across central Seoul recently to stand up for their rights to choose, nearly a month after the South Korean government proposed tougher punishment for illegal abortions.

    In a local version of the so-called "black protest" that swept through Poland early this month, an estimated 300 protesters staged a rally in the heart of Seoul, demanding that the government scrap its stricter abortion ban.

    "I oppose the government taking control of women's reproductive rights and freedom to choose what to do with their body," a 23-year-old activist, who wanted only to be identified as Mullgam, said.

    "It only shows the low social status of Korean women, who are discriminated against and seen as a reproductive tool for male citizens in society.

    "When women give birth to unwanted babies, who will take responsibility for them and the babies?"

    She also criticised the existing rule that requires a husband's consent, even for legal abortions, saying that women should be able to have abortions out of their own will.

    Abortion is legally prohibited in South Korea except in cases of rape, incest, a threat to a pregnant woman's health, or when a baby is potentially disabled. However, all abortions - no matter the circumstances - are illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

    Under the slogan of "My womb, my body", the protesters, who appeared to be mostly women and in their 20s and 30s, were seen wearing black clothes, with half of their faces covered in black scarves to avoid attention from "woman haters".

    The demonstration came amid mounting controversy over proposed tougher crackdowns on illegal abortions.

    According to the revision to the Mother and Child Act proposed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, doctors who perform illegal abortions could face a suspension of business for up to one year, instead of one month.

    The plan triggered resistance from the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (KAOG), with the members vowing to stop performing the procedure unless the government withdraws the plan.

    Women's organisations lashed out at both the Health Ministry and KAOG for holding women hostage without reflecting their opinions in the decision-making process.

    "The government has encouraged abortions in the past but it now strengthens punishment for women getting abortions in order to raise the birth rate," said activist Seo Ga Hyeon.

    "The government shifting its abortion restrictions depending on population planning policies is just a sign that it sees women as baby breeding machines."

    Artist Hong Seung Hee shed tears before the crowd while sharing her experience of getting an abortion.

    "I had an abortion in May. I didn't want to be pregnant.

    "My womb is not public property that can be controlled by the government," she added.

    Women who get illegal abortions are subject to a prison term of up to one year or a fine of two million won (S$2,500).

    Despite the ban on abortions, the medical industry estimates that some 200,000 abortions are conducted each year, with only 5 per cent of them being legal. THE KOREA HERALD/