South Korea’s constitutional court on Thursday, April 11, ruled to lift the country’s 66-year ban on abortion. Seven of the nine judges declared that the current penalty for abortion was “unconstitutional” and ordered parliament to revise the 1953 law by the end of 2020.
Under the current law, women can face a maximum one-year sentence for having an abortion procedure, while medical workers involved in an abortion can be jailed for up to two years.
The verdict was a response to an appeal filed in February 2017 by an obstetrician charged with carrying out approximately 70 unauthorized abortions from 2013-2017.
The court last upheld the ban in 2012, arguing that abortion would “end up running rampant” if punishments were abolished.
According to The Guardian, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, a Catholic, has avoided commenting on the issue but has pledged support to “women’s rights,” in response to the rapid rise of the country’s #MeToo movement.
Moon appointed five of the current constitutional court justices, including the court’s chief justice who has publicly supported abortion decriminalization.
The Telegraph reported that a 2017 opinion poll showed a narrow public majority—just 51.9 percent—in favor of abolishing the ban.
Near the court’s entrance on Thursday, pro-life activists held signs with pictures of unborn babies and messages like “Who can speak for me?” and “Don’t kill me, please.”
Pro-life supporters fear that legal abortion access will open the floodgates for women to seek abortion for social and economic reasons. Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman becomes pregnant through rape or incest, when pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the mother’s health, or if the mother or father has certain diseases.
The Reverend Yosep Joo of the National Coalition Against Abortion denounced the court’s decision as “against humanity.”