11 January 2010

South Korea abortion debate heats up

If there is one thing I love about being in the US, it's being able to read the New York Times in its paper form and not staring at the 'pages' on a screen.

Anyway, I was intrigued by an article about abortion in South Korea, an issue that has rarely come to the fore as a topic of public interest. Abortion, whilst illegal in all but exceptional circumstances, has long been practised by obstetricians and gynecologists on the sly for cash payment for willing patients considering abortion is not covered by health insurance. In the face of an impending fertility crisis, abortion is coming under closer scrutiny as government officials worry that more aborted foetuses will put the nation at risk. According to the NYT:

"For decades, the South Korean government tended to look the other way, seeing a high birthrate as an impediment to economic growth. In the 1970s and 1980s, families with more than two children were denounced as unpatriotic, with official posters in South Korean villages driving the point home. Until the early 1990s, men could be exempted from mandatory army reserve duty if they had vasectomies."

With medical professionals now banding together against illegal abortions in light of their own guilt surrounding their participation in performing the procedures, there is increasing concern that women who are forced to have unwanted babies will either travel abroad to have an abortion or abandon their babies. Cash bonuses are now available for families with more than two children as well as greater financial aid for single mothers in need and vouchers for couples seeking help at fertility clinics.

Not unlike Costello's urge for Australian families to have one baby for mum, dad and the nation, South Korea looks to be on a dangerous road where women's reproductive rights are infringed upon. Whereas a foetus was just a foetus, now a foetus is implicitly a son or daughter.

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