Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea
We Strongly Oppose the Legislative Process to Abolish the Anti-abortion Law
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK) expresses its deepest regret about the news: the Committee on Gender Equality Policy, a consultative body under the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Korea, has submitted to the Ministry its policy advice to abolish the anti-abortion law regardless of the pregnancy stages. Upon this issue, we would like to affirm our stance as follows.
- 1. The said Committee has recommended the decriminalization and legalization of all abortions to be performed in any stage of pregnancy, abolishing all the related criminal laws. This recommendation is based on the pregnant women’s right to self-determination. However, a fetus’ right to life is not less important than the woman’s right and happiness. It is because the fetus in itself is a separate and unique human being and its existence cannot be determined by its mother.
- 2. ‘The abolishment of the anti-abortion law’ violates the constitutional spirit to protect ‘a fetus’ right to life.’ In fact, the Constitutional Court has already made the following decision: “All human beings have a right to life by the Constitution. This right is also valid to a human fetus on the developmental stages. Although the fetus is dependent on the mother to maintain its life, it in itself is a separate entity from the mother and has a great potential to become sufficiently human unless there are any special reasons. Therefore, the fetus also has a right to life by the Constitution, and the state has a duty to protect the fetus’ life according to the Constitution Article 10, Paragraph 2” (cf. Constitutional Court Decisions: HeonJae July 31, 2008, 2004HeonBa81; HeonJae July 31, 2008, 2004HeonMa1010; HeonJae May 27, 2010, 2005HeonMa346; HeonJae August 23, 2012, 2010HeonBa402).
- 3. On April 11, 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled that the ban on abortion is unconstitutional. However, it recognized protecting a fetus’ life as the public good. With regard to the absence of law applicable to all cases of abortions performed throughout the preganacy, the Court considered it as an ‘unacceptable legal vacuum.’ Unfortunately the government tries to deny the fetus’ right to life and proceed the legislation to abolish the anti-abortion law by accepting the aforementioned recommendation from the Committee. It itself would be an act of renouncing the national obligation declared by the Constitutional Court.
- 4. We should pay attention to the fact that even many countries that approve the legislation of abortion strictly regulate the availability of abortion with consideration of the pregnancy weeks, and provide prior-consultation to those who consider abortion. Moreover we cannot deny the fact that a late termination of pregnancy is highly risky to the woman’s health. Those who advocate to abolish the anti-abortion law justify their claim by suggesting that unsafe abortion is one of the main causes for pregnant women’s death and sickness. However if all abortions are permitted in any stage of pregnancy, it will be equally fatal to women’s health.
All the issues related with pregnancy and childbirth cannot be solved only by eradicating the ban on abortion. They can be solved by changing the current social culture which imposes solely on women the responsibility of pregnancy and childbirth. Hence the nation should recognize that the eradication of the anti-abortion law cannot be the ultimate solution for the issues. The state also should make an effort to create the pro-life culture which promotes society and nation as well as both individual man and woman to take co-responsibility for pregnancy and childcare.
- 5. The Catholic Church firmly opposes the media, which justifies and even advocates for crimes against human life under the pretext of protecting individual happiness and freedom, the enactment of a law ruled by the ‘majority and plurality,’ and the policy direction of the state that approves it. This is because attacks against human lives in the early developmental stage are regarded as ‘rights’ rather than ‘crimes,’ reflecting the interests of the privileged classes or the logic of majority. Therefore, the Church urges that national policies and laws be enacted based not on the logic of majority, but on universal human values and natural law, such as human rights, common good, solidarity, love and justice, which are deeply rooted in respect for human life.
- 6. The Catholic Church consistently affirms that a human life must be respected as a person from the very moment of conception. In fact, it is said that within 21 to 22 hours after fertilization, the genetic traits of the paternal and maternal lines are combined, that the heart beats at the third week of pregnancy, and that fetal brain activity begins around the eighth week. Therefore, embryo or fetus that will be born as a human being must be recognized as a complete person and its absolute right to life must be respected. The state must recognize every human life, regardless of its developmental stage, as a precious human being. Only then will Korean society become a country that truly respects human life and leads the culture of life.
- 7. Governmental authorities must fulfill their obligations to safeguard the right to life and protect the weak. If the nation deprives a fetus of its right to life with plausible excuses for women’s rights to happiness and self-determination, it would infringe the inviolability of human life, abandon the national duty to protect the weak, and result in the destruction of the social order. In addition to protecting women who are facing difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth, protecting the fetus which is more fragile than women is indispensable national obligation. If the state fails to protect this vulnerable and innocent fetus, it will commit an injustice against a life by renouncing its duty.
The Catholic Church in Korea strongly opposes the legislation of the Ministry of Justice in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. ‘The abolishment of the anti-abortion law’ is not a way to solve the pending issue. We must exert ourselves to promote: policy and legislative works that help women to conceive and give birth to a child with confidence; various consultations on the risks and side effects of abortion; recognition of the right of patients and doctors to refuse abortion; activities to improve social culture and welfare. At present, facing the eventual amendment of the related laws in accordance with the recent decision made by the Constitutional Court, we sincerely hope that our society will establish a fair system in which we take co-responsibility for pregnancy and childcare, and strive to be a ‘better Korea’ by building a foundation of respect for life and a culture of life.
August 28, 2020
The Korean Bishops