Push to End South Korea Abortion Ban Gains Strength, and Signatures

The activists are seeking to bring the law closer to the current reality. The ban on abortion is rarely enforced, and it is relatively easy for women to find willing doctors at clinics. According to a government estimate, based on a survey of women of childbearing age, 169,000 abortions were conducted in 2010, the latest year for which data is available from the Health and Welfare Ministry.

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A panel discussed abortion last month at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center in Seoul. Abortion is illegal with few exceptions in South Korea, but prosecutions are rare and the procedure is common.

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Jun Michael Park for The New York Times

That number, which represents close to 16 abortions per 1,000 people, gives South Korea the 10th highest abortion rate among the 35 mostly high-income countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But independent analysis by public health scholars suggests that the real number is much higher. According to research by Park Myung-bae, a professor at Pai Chai University in the city of Daejeon, the annual tally is as high as 500,000 or more — greater than the number of babies born in South Korea in 2016.

And few women or doctors are prosecuted for abortion. Last year, according to the South Korean Supreme Court, just 25 such cases went to trial, with four leading to convictions. For decades, the government’s enforcement of the ban has waxed and waned with the prevailing population trends.

Advocates calling for an end to the ban have long argued that South Korea’s laws violate a woman’s right to make choices about her body. Even in the limited instances when an abortion is legal, a woman must get permission from her spouse or cohabiting partner.

Advocates say the ban makes women seeking abortions vulnerable to reprisals; boyfriends, former boyfriends, husbands and in-laws have…

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