Dec 2, 2009  •  In Korean, Personal

The Abortion Republic

Note: I am a pro-life. If you disagree with this standing, please feel free to stop reading now.

Recently I came across an article from The Chicago Tribune discussing abortion issues in South Korea. The article reports of an activist group of physicians founded by obstetrician Shim Sang-duk who refuses to perform abortions and advocates prosecution for doctors who continue to do so.

FACT:  Abortion is illegal in South Korea.

FACT:  South Korea has one of the highest abortion rates among developed countries, so much so that it has been called “The Abortion Republic.”

FACT:  In sharp contrast to the United States, physicians in Korea are ostracized for REFUSING to administer abortions.

I will not get into more politics, nor discuss the article in further detail. Instead, I want to tell you a story of a woman I knew in Korea.

“Western societies see abortion as one of benchmark battles between conservatives and liberals — while here there has not been even any academic discussion,” said Lee Na-young, a sociology professor at Seoul’s Chung-Ang University.

“Even though illegal abortions are widespread…it is true that everyone keeps quiet and does not say anything about it,” the politician [Chang Yoon-seok] said in a statement.

In the 1970s, the Korean government advocated fewer birth rates as a means to fuel economic productivity. There is a reason so many Korean families of my generation only have two children: the government provided tax credits and free healthcare for up to two children.

The woman in my story had two young children and discovered that she was pregnant with her third. She made an appointment with the same doctor that had treated her first two pregnancies and safely delivered both babies. However, upon discovering her condition, the doctor refused to treat her.

Instead, he pressured her to have an abortion. “Why would you want this child?” he asked. “You already have two. You can’t afford a third.”

When the women voiced her concerns, he became angry with her. “Either you have the abortion, or you go find another doctor.”

The woman reluctantly agreed. She was 4½ months pregnant.

For years, Shim rarely, if ever, even used the word “abortion.” Rather, he said, he sought to “erase” or “prevent” the fetus.

“I bought into the government’s argument that it was OK to do this,” he said. “It was good for the country. It boosted the economy.”

Due to the stage of her pregnancy and the lack of proper equipment (remember, abortions are illegal in Korea), the woman almost died from the procedure.

“My first two births were easy compared to this. I was in and out of the hospital in less than 24 hours both times I gave birth. When they gave me the abortion, however, I thought I was going to die. I had severe bleeding and developed an infection. I stayed in the hospital for over a week. All I could think about was how God was taking me away from my two babies for taking the life of the third.”

After receiving their abortions, he [Dr. Shim] said, most women cried.

“Many patients cry when they give birth,” he said, “but these were a different kind of tears.”

15 Responses to “The Abortion Republic”

  1. I think women should have the choice of continuing or terminating a pregnancy, in consultation with doctors who respect their right to make their own decisions. Ideally, women would also speak with their partners (but recognize that many situations are not ideal). Ultimately, I believe that a woman is usually the best judge of whether or not she is ready to be a mother, and that children who are born to women who want them and are prepared to care for them will do better in life.

    By the way, I don’t think your post will put off anyone who is pro-choice. It is wrong (to put it lightly) for a doctor to pressure a patient who wants to continue her pregnancy into having an abortion. It is wrong for a doctor to dissuade a woman from pursuing abortion if that is what she wants (especially if he/she uses false information or distorted statistics to do so). In this case, I feel that the doctor’s responsibility in this role is magnified because they are figures of authority and women come to them for medical counseling. That’s a power that should be not abused to pursue a doctor’s personal agenda.

  2. I am very very pro-life. I’ve had a few friends who have had abortions because they were students/couldn’t afford a baby and each and every one of them has regretted their decision. It ends up haunting them, that they will never know what if.

    I’m a firm believer that abortions are indeed murder (Oh gosh, I’m gonna raise a discussion here, aren’t I?). A fetus is a human, and (here goes religion) who are we to say that God’s creation doesn’t deserve a chance to live?

    I know some cases can be grey line (rape, woman can die giving birth), which makes me question how I think in terms of abortion, but really, I think everything happens for a reason and if you can’t handle a baby at the time, maybe adoption is the answer too.

    I’m terrible at arguments, but I agree with you 100% on pro-life. :)

  3. That’s really sad, that woman’s story. I personally am pro-choice, but that doctor should not have pressured her the way he did. If she wanted the child, she should have kept it, no questions asked. Babies can be wonderful! :D

    But I think the reason there is such a high abortion rate in Asian countries is because of their lack of sex education. They don’t know anything about prevention of pregnancy, so the girls all end up pregnant, so often times abortion is the solution (I personally prefer contraception & prevention to abortion–it’s really the last option to me).

    I read an article on this recently, I’ll see if I can find it again and post it here for you. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

  4. Geek in Heels:

    @Ginger — I completely agree that the biggest reason for the high abortion rates in Asian countries is the lack of sex education (for instance, I once read an article about a couple in China who was having trouble conceiving so they went to the doctor…only to find out that you need to have sex to have a baby!). In these countries, condoms are looked upon as being dirty and evidence for promiscuity. Abortions are treated as forms of birth control, which is just horrible. I was going to get into this in the post, but I didn’t want to talk too much about politics…I just wanted to share the story.

  5. I second WellHeeled. She said it very well. My personal belief is that a fetus gains its own rights as a human when it is viable outside the womb. Until then, it’s a part of its mother and ultimately it’s up to her.
    I completely agree that abortions should not be used as a form of birth control but I do think that in some situations they are appropriate.
    A comprehensive sex education is crucial. Contrary to what many think, it doesn’t necessarily cause people to have sex younger. I had the most thorough education of all my peers and siblings and I waited longer than probably 98% of them.
    That completely blows my mind about the couple who didn’t know they had to have sex in order to have a baby. How is that possible!?

  6. CMW:

    I am pro-life. My heart tells me that abortion is wrong (except in certain circumstance- like a non-viable pregnancy for instance). And truthfully, I do not condemn women who have had an abortion.

    However, I vote pro-choice. I am so torn because while I do think abortion is wrong, I worry that banning abortion will result in consequences like in your example- women getting illegal abortions and not getting proper medical care. I cannot condemn women to die from illegal abortions.

    I am a major proponent of sex education and access to birth control for men and women. I think comprehensive sex ed would go a long was to eliminating the ‘need’ for abortions for non-medical reasons.

    That said- adoption is also a wonderful choice. I have an adopted cousin who would not be a part of our family if abortion had been legal when she was conceived. It’s a scary and upsetting thought.

  7. Susan:

    Though Korea made provisions for those people who had few children… now Korea’s is in a dire state because families are only have one child. That’s prob due to the fact that extracurricular activities and additional tutoring is expensive and almost a must in Korea. But I heard that now the government has implemented tax credits and other benefits (discounts on utility bills) for families who have more children. I didn’t even know that abortion was illegal in Korea, but it’s surprising how abortion scenes, or almost abortion scenes, are showed in Korean dramas… just a thought…

  8. HamiHarri:

    Although I am pro-choice I find that story about the doctor and the woman pregant with her 3rd child terrible on so many levels. I can’t believe the doctor pressured the woman, that the woman consented even though her heart wasn’t in it – ugh! How terrible.

    Like I said, I’m pro-choice, but really think the focus should be on sex education…not plan b,c,d,e etc.

    For some reason I can’t get my blog addy to post: http://www.allbutcertainbaby.blogspot.com

  9. kay:

    I’m pro-choice & wasn’t offended at all by your article – found it very interesting that there is such a high abortion rate, even with them being illegal. How can physicians be ostracized for not performing abortions if they’re illegal? That’s so interesting to me. Insane, really.

    I did have one little side-comment, not to brew up an argument, but just to present a little bit of factual info into the discussion. Most (most, most, most) women who elect to have abortions do not end up crying, regretting them, being depressed, or having complications. In America, because abortion is legalized and safe, the risk of dying or getting an infection because of an abortion is equal to or less than the risk of giving birth.

    As a counseling intern who worked with pregnant and/or mothering teenage girls, ages 12-17, I can tell you that adoption is not always an option. Families pressure the girls to keep the babies, claiming that they will help raise them. They also threaten to disown them, kick them out of the house, and stop providing for them (remember, some of these girls are 12 and 13 years old). Many of their babies end up abused, neglected, shuffled through a horrid foster care system, reliant on welfare/government help to survive, and much worse. Almost all of the girls, their families, and their babies remain in poverty the rest of their lives, and many of the babies end up repeating the cycles of their young mothers.

    Once you have seen a 14 year old carry around their baby, cry every day, suffer neglect/abuse from their own parents, go to court constantly, battle DNA tests and absent fathers… something happens where you stop worrying so much about the life of their baby & you begin worrying about *them* and *their life* and how much value it has. You also stop a lot of your previous thinking – which is centered in a privileged, Utopian-ideal society and you accept that things are not as they seem. It’s an amazing thought/wish to feel like God has a plan for every child and that every child has a chance to succeed. Unfortunately, in the real world, things are much uglier and more painful than that, a huge majority of the time.

    Working with those clients changed all of my opinions, and I’m never shy about talking about them if anybody would like to have a discussion :)

    Great topic to post on!

  10. Emily:

    I am pro choice also but find stories like this so sad and appalling. I know that makes no sense and I won’t go into my reasons why I am pro choice except that i prefer to leave religion out of discussions that involve other (aka not me) women (who may not believe in God, in a country where we have no said organized, mandated religion), feel there is a time and place and it shouldn’t be brought up like it’s no big deal. It should be a decision that required much thought on the mother’s part. Too many people use it inappropriately and it makes me so mad. I feel like there is no right or wrong in either pro choice or pro life. When you end up pregnant in undesirable circumstances (just to echo kay above), lots of people suffer.

    That being said, that woman made her own choice, despite public pressure. You have to be strong enough to believe in what you want, whatever that may be. Even if her doctor pressured her, she made her own decision. She is an adult, not a child, and there is no excuse.

    I, like many above, am a bigger advocate of sex education because I’d much rather focus on the prevention of such circumstances than just the after effect. You can’t solve something without starting at the beginning and if we continue to believe our children won’t have sex because "they’re not like that" we are all fooling ourselves

  11. Lyzz:

    To extend the discussion beyond Korea, but to other Asian countries (i.e. China), where abortion is legal (I believe) and used as a form of birth control. As a case in point, I was recently informed by a co-worker that she is getting an abortion, at age 35ish. She and her husband had accidentally gotten pregnant again and had to abort once more. This was the second time they resorted to abortion as form of birth control, because they believe that it is completely normal. Instead of going on birth control pills or use a condom to prevent pregnancy in their marriage, they always have the option to abort should they conceived. I find this completely appalling.

    I must state that I am pro-choice, because I believe that there are certain circumstances that you must make the decisions to abort and it’s better to have that option to do it legally than to have to do it illegally. However, the cases like that of my co-worker’s is not one that I’m talking about.

    The point is, because China has (or used to have) the limitation on the number of children rule, and the only way to do so is to legalize abortion and use it as a mean to an end. Therefore, the people that grew up in that environment are taught to use abortion as a form of birth control, which I do not support whatsoever.

    To echo everyone else’s point, sex education is the way to go. This co-worker of mine is a grown woman, who have had 2 children, who decided that abortion is a form of birth control for them, and who doesn’t think anything of it. I find it very sad because it takes away from the dire circumstances that abortion is truly appropriate.

    Either way, I find that illegalizing or legalizing abortion is not an issue. The issue is in how we each personally approach it based on how we were taught to believe.

  12. Jen:

    I think your disclaimer at the beginning was unnecessary. It might even have the opposite effect you intend because, as a pro-choice person, I find the story horrible and sad, and I’m a little hurt that you thought a pro-choice person wouldn’t feel that way. I think that abortion should be a woman’s choice, period. The fact that her doctor pressured her and even gave her an ultimatum is seriously messed up. She should have stood up for herself if it wasn’t what she wanted, but the pressure was still there, from a person in your life that you’re supposed to trust completely. (I also think that extreme pressure in the other direction is also wrong, but that’s a little off-topic)

    Also, the abortion as birth control issue has come up in the comments. I think that this has to be the result of poor education about not only sex, but the after-effects of abortion. Having an abortion is not a good thing for your body, and it opens you up to all kinds of risks. It is never something that should be taken lightly.

  13. @Kay

    We have interesting connections, Kay. I was also a counseling intern my last semester in my Social Work program, and I worked with teens who worried they were pregnant. I had a lot of teens that, when presented with all their choices in a factual, non-scary way, chose to abort. I personally think abortion is unnatural, as it is putting mothers against their children, but I understood why some of the teens decided this. I also had some teens who, when finding out that adoption WAS a possibility, and that they wouldn’t have to pay for the delivery, and they could set up an open adoption, did a 180 and were so happy to find out they could be a part of their child’s life without having to raise their child. I had a lot of teens who decided to parent as well.

    One of the hardest things for me was actually the OPPOSITE of you experience: I had many teens who felt FORCED to abort because, if they had the child, 1. they’d be thrown out of the house, 2. they’d have to quit school, 3. their boyfriend would physically hurt them. One gal, 15 years old, was told by her boyfriend that he would kill her if she decided to have this baby.

    After working at the pregnancy clinic, I came away with a few different views. I realized that I am Pro-Choice, Anti-Abortion. Anti-Abortion sounds like the people who hold up pictures of mutilated babies, but I am far from that. As I said, I think that abortion is forcing children against mothers which is unnatural. It is unhealthy. If a pregnancy was not wanted, birth control should be used. If a condom breaks, Plan B should be used (I’m allll about plan B). Teens need to use birth control AND condoms since there is no way they should be having children.

    I now supervise a teen clinic and I am always happy to see it full. These teens need condoms! And birth control! And Plan B! but more than that, they need to realize that sex is fun, but SERIOUS, and that it’s not just a physical act. It affects them physically, socially (slut? prude?), spiritually (what are their beliefs about sex? abortion?), intellectually (am I mature enough to handle this? How will this affect my life?), and emotionally (will I feel good afterwards? Bad? Do I feel pressured?). It’s a big deal.

    So I agree with everyone that had something to say about sex ed. But I do not think that the government should be the ones to decide on such a personal matter.

  14. A reminder:

    ALL abortion is birth control – that’s the point. No one has the right judge what the "correct" reasons are for terminating a pregnancy. Not legislators, not judges, not politicians, not you, not me. To do so is just patriarchal control of women.

  15. Jorge Queens:

    This is not an issue of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life but rather the government telling you how to live your life. Any government telling you how many kids you can have, what you can wear or who you can socialize with is WRONG! It seems no one learns from the past examples of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia or even modern day North Korea.