This was so heartbreaking to read. Regrettably, like in many other places around the world, South Korea still has a long way to go in terms of women’s rights.
The following week I re-visited the clinic but this time a different doctor checked the fetus. And what she said made me upset. Basically, she told me that I shouldn’t have such a loose lifestyle, that I should care more about contraception, why I had waited so long before coming to visit, and so on and so forth. But I had no choice, since if I go to a different clinic I have to pay for the ultrasound again.
This part was especially disturbing. I perceived it as a micro-example of ‘shaming the woman’: it’s her own fault she got pregnant, her sexually active lifestyle is an irresponsible one, and just a bunch of other bs ‘moral’-injections this young university student doesn’t deserve to hear.
I remember watching an episode of MiSuDa a while back in which there was a discussion about female reproductive health in South Korea. (I couldn’t find the video online, unfortunately.) While the foreigners were saying how regular visits to the gynecologist was not only normal but also important, the Korean female celebrities on the show confessed that they are incredibly intimidated from seeing the doctor even for a routine checkup because in many people’s eyes, it suggests possible pregnancy (and the gossip gets especially ‘scandalous’ when it is known that the celebrity is not married). If this is the case for the nation’s biggest stars when it comes to something like pregnancy, I can only imagine what regular girls and women must endure when the issue at hand is abortion. According to Roboseyo, women get reprimanded by their local pharmacists even if they’re only buying birth control pills! (By the way, check out the rest of his post for a good overview of his thoughts of what should be done in terms of making reproductive health services more available to women in South Korea.)
Also, I’m not so sure about the availability of family-planning services in South Korea, but based on the following stats, it seems that the lack or inefficiency of such services is having quite a detrimental effect:
… the reasons why married women, who make up 58 percent of the women who have undergone abortion procedures, chose to have abortions are because they do not want children (70 percent) and financial difficulties (17.5 percent). In the case of unmarried women, 93.7 percent said they underwent an abortion procedure because they were not married. They are saying that having children is difficult because of child-rearing and economic burdens in the case of married women, and because of social prejudice and financial difficulties in the case of unmarried women.
(source: originally The Hankyoreh, via The Grand Narrative)
I say “detrimental” because why is it that more than half of the married women who chose to go through abortions have it because they didn’t want kids? Though abortion is a choice to rid yourself of an unwanted pregnancy, this huge percentage suggests that the forms of birth control available are shitty because they don’t seem to be working, or women are not even aware of its availability; therefore making abortion the only choice, and that in itself is wrong.
And as for that whopping 93.7% of unmarried women who got abortions, holy shit! Who says it’s absolutely necessary for you to be married in order to rear a child? (A society that stigmatizes unmarried women (and pregnant women in the workplace) does!) Regardless, again, what happened to birth control? (Oh wait, nevermind.)
You know what else sucks? Apparently South Korea has one of the lowest birth rate in the world, and the Lee Myung-Bak administration actually believes one of the causes of this are abortions, which is why it decided to reinforce its anti-abortion laws in 2009. A closer analysis of the problem will reveal deeper and more fruitful reasons than this (then again, we’re talking about the same guy who condemns homosexuality as abnormal, so yeah):
But first and foremost, what is needed is a change of mindset. People need to be educated and enlightened about reproductive health and the importance of its awareness. The stigma surrounding gynecology and birth control methods need to be removed, and people need to understand that part of the core of female empowerment is the right of a woman to have full control over her own body. To quote Change.org (via The Grand Narrative, thank you very much ^^),
Abortion shouldn’t be the only, desperate choice of women whose voices are silenced by their society, and it shouldn’t be used as a form of population control by the government. It should be one option for women who have the power, education, and awareness to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, it seems South Korea still sees abortion as one more issue for men to deal with, one more choice they make when and how they feel like it.
Only a woman can make decisions about what to do with her own body, not society.
Interesting read, but to offer a Korean perspective from someone who follows Korean politics and lives in Korea, the reason why such strict regulations on abortions exist can be filed under the following.
Basically, patriarchy. Also, Confucian societal values also places a heavy emphasis on family and family values.
2. Christian politicians pushing their religious values.
Christians are about 40% of the population, being an almost equal split between Catholics and Presbyterians at roughly 15% of each, the remaining 10% being of other denominations, but Christians make up about 75~80% of all politicians, including the past…4 presidents I believe. It hard to further reproductive rights when almost all the politicians go to churches when the priests tell them abortion is a sin.
3. Lack of social activism.
Although Korea is well known for its protests, very rarely are the protests in the name of social activism. There is an almost non-existent feminist movement, the LGBTQIA rights movement is hardly vocal, and other social justice/social activism movements pretty much don’t exist. It’s difficult to form such movements and Korea stresses being homogeneous with your surroundings. “The stone that sticks out is the stone which is hit by the boulder rolling past”. From a young age Korean kids are taught that if they, in any way, are different from society, they should hide it (this explains the small LGBTQA community within Korea also).
I’m not going to lie, Korea is an extremely socially conservative country and this is a horrible problem. Then again 400 k won is about 400 dollars, so I do believe that’s actually cheaper than the base 500 that they charge in the US.