South Korea's top court strikes down abortion ban

After 66 years, South Korea's current abortion law may no longer be enforced after 2019

Activists celebrate the abolition of the abortion law outside of the Constitutional Court

Activists celebrate the abolition of the abortion law outside of the Constitutional Court (By Associated Press)

SEOUL (DW) -- South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the country's law criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, as well as a law making doctors who perform them liable to criminal charges.

"The law criminalising a woman who undergoes abortion of her own will goes beyond the minimum needed to achieve the legislative purpose and limits the right of self-determination of the woman who has become pregnant," the court said.

The move will likely lead to an easing of South Korea's strict abortion laws, though the court said that the current statutes could remain in place until the end of the year. The nine judges gave the parliament in Seoul until the end of 2020 to come up with legislation to roll back the current restrictions.

Doctors, patients faced prison time

Abortion has been against the law since 1953, with some exceptions, such as cases of rape or grave danger to the health of the mother. Under the current law, a woman can be sentenced to up to a year in prison and the doctor up to two years. The Constitutional Court had previously upheld the country's abortion regulations in a closely divided 2012 decision.

"If the case does not fall under an exemption, the law forces the pregnant woman to maintain the pregnancy completely and uniformly without exception even in cases where there are circumstances causing conflicts about abortion due to diverse, widespread societal and economic reasons," the ruling read.

While there have rarely been criminal convictions for violating the ban, the illegality has created a significant social stigma around it and made it difficult for women to obtain the relevant health information.

Constitutional Court chief judge Yoo Nam-seok and other judges sit rule on decriminalization of abortion (Associated Press photo)