Monday, September 19, 2011

Abortion in Korea

My mom was a hard-core anti-abortion activist: she worked, and volunteered, for my town's "Right To Life" and unplanned pregnancy organizations, and a few times, we even took a few young, pregnant ladies who needed a place to stay into our home a few times. She even brought my little brother to the picket lines a few times. I can't think of an issue where I more clearly see, and sympathise with, both sides of the issue, than this one. Frankly, writing this post, this way, might upset some people who are very dear to me, who remain strongly opposed to abortion.

James Turnbull, of The Grand Narrative has a fascinating account of a Korean university student's attempt to procure an abortion in Korea. It includes being lectured about her loose lifestyle by a doctor (I've been told women buying birth control pills at a pharmacy sometimes also get "don't be such a floozy" lectures from pharmacists). It also discusses how the price has gotten way higher in Korea, because government officials think fighting to bring down Korea's high abortion rate (by persecuting doctors who perform abortions) is a good way to bring up the birthrate.

Which is about as wrong-minded as thinking that we can solve the traffic jam problem in Kangnam every day by raising the speed limits on the main roads, instead of by widening roads, improving bus lanes, discouraging the use of cars, encouraging development of telecommuting options, introducing congestion taxes in downtown areas, and building more subway lines. -- Abortions in Korea are a symptom of a larger problem, and fighting the symptoms doesn't solve the problem.

It's a complex topic, but here, in my opinion, is the choice:

1. Make pregnancy prevention education easily available, and make it easy (and non-humiliating) to obtain pregnancy prevention devices (birth control pills, prophylactics, etc.). This training should be for young men and women. Make birth control and morning-after pills over-the-counter. And fine pharmacists who receive a complaint for lecturing a woman on her lifestyle. Make the fine double for every repeat offense. He's a pharmacist, not a priest.

2. Make abortion affordable and accessible -- if you're not going to teach people how to avoid pregnancy, give them a way out of it.

3. Create/improve working social programs, daycare centers, and maternity protection laws, etc, that make sure that parents, and especially single mothers, no longer feel like having a baby will be the death of all her future career/education prospects.

Or maybe all three. Or at least one and three, so that if the religious right really does insist on banning adoption abortion, fewer women end up on that road by accident, and those who do end up on that road, have options.

... or we could go back to exporting unwanted babies, like back in the '80s when Korea was one of the world's largest sources of overseas adoptees. Did you know back in 1998 Kim Dae Jung actually apologized to Korean overseas adoptees. (more about Korean overseas adoption here)

Somebody I love a lot is currently in the process of getting a masters' degree in Canada as a single mother. And I LOVE that in Canada, it's possible for a single mother to aim at a masters' degree, rather than inevitably resigning herself to a career waiting tables. Until single (and married) women in Korea feel like they will still have options even after a baby is born, the abortion rate will continue to be high, and the birth rate will continue to be low.

But go read the story of getting an abortion in Korea. It's a little bit heartbreaking.

In the comments, somebody asked me to link this blog, which is an account of a "foreigner" getting an abortion in Korea.

It's a single-post blog, and it includes the line "I will only list one abortion provider in the Seoul area, because I believe he is worth the travel time" ...I'm sure there are other clinics where one could find similarly compassionate, and English-capable help, to say nothing of those who do not live around Seoul. Condoms break in Busan, too.

If anyone has a link or reference for doctors in other parts of the country, or others in Seoul, or wishes to put some kind of contact information into the comments on this post, so that people can contact them for a recommendation, feel free.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your thoughtful points.

Either you provide a standard sex-ed class for women _and_ men or you can't possibly be surprised when people have accidental pregnancies.

This is what drives me crazy about right-wingers in America -- they want to take away women's medical rights while at the same time doing away with sex-ed and access to birth control (e.g., Planned Parenthood).

Put simply, they hate women and are actively waging a war against them on a daily basis.

Sad to see the levels of rank misogyny are similar here in Korea.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all three of the options you have presented. I find most politicians who are 'pro life' are also the most likely people to advocate for more wars and more guns, but also less money for health care, poverty reduction, and crisis prevention. (Although some on the ground activists are much more compassionate and really show a commitment to life). On the other hand, so few women who have abortions make their own 'choice' because they feel they have no other choice than abortion. When a woman terminates a pregnancy because she feels she will be shunned by society/future employers/her parents and when she feels she has no support from the baby's father, she isn't making a real choice. I know it is a crazy dream, but I want to live in a world where being 'pro life' really means support for life for mother, child, and family pre and post natal, and having choices means having real choices for all women.

Anonymous said...

can you link this in your post?

a more positive experience in Seoul

Annie Nimity said...

Can everywhere in the world please have options 1, 2, AND 3? Sigh.

Also, in the third to last paragraph, did you actually mean banning abortion or adoption? (Sorry, I'm a professional editor - I can't help it.)

조안나 said...

Korean schools NEED to have sex-ed. It's not only about preventing pregnancy, but also about std prevention as well. There are too many basic things that we learned in high school that they never think about because no one talks about it. sex-ed alone would probably help the situation a lot. Then the other suggestions you made would help relive some of the societal stigmas around pregnancy and birth control.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your opinions on such a tough subject.

I agree with 1 and 3, which would hopefully make #2 moot.

But I fear that the rate of abortions, even with sex-ed and accessibility, won't diminish much until basic attitudes about the 'self' are re-evaluated. The Korean culture is rooted in Confucianist patriarchal principals. The pharmacist who lectures the young woman on 'loose' morals believed he had every right to do so. Men who abandon their pregnant girlfriends have no social stigma attached to them, apart from being a piece of shi** for doing so.

Roboseyo said...

Well spotted, Anonymity.

changes made.

anonymous 1: I'll put in the link, but I'm going to add my own hedging.

anonymous 2:

I'd be interested to see references and more explanation connecting confucianism and its five key relationships (none of which are pharmacist/floozy), and how that ends with a pharmacist or doctor taking it upon him/herself to lecture a near strager on their personal choices.

Too often, I've seen Confucianism used as a catch-all, or even a red herring, that mostly succeeds in letting people write something they don't understand off as confucianism, rather than looking more carefully and understanding it.

3gyupsal said...

For any of these things to work, wouldn't abortion have to be legal in Korea in the first place? Abortion is still against the law here, so what the amounts that doctors charge is pretty much a black market price.

It is indeed a strange situation. On the one hand, abortions are illegal, on the other, it is illegal for OBYN's to tell parents the sex of their babies, before a certain time because they are afraid that too many girls would get aborted.

I've also heard of a few cases where abortions aren't the choice of the women getting them in Korea. Some out of wedlock babies are aborted because the father's parents threaten the mother.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'd add one thing: yes, the pharmacist is a pharmacist, not a priest. But give him the right to refuse to dispense things like morning-after pills & such, if his conscience won't permit it, let him refer the patient to someone else instead. He's a human being, not a vending machine.

Roboseyo said...

I'm totally OK with a pharmacist saying "I'm sorry, those aren't available at this pharmacy, but there's one down the road where you can get them." I'm not OK with a pharmacist telling a total stranger she should stop living like a floozy. That's sheer professionalism.

3Gyupsal: you're right. Abortion would have to be legal. That the practice and the letter of the law are so far apart on this issue means that sensible policies are probably never going to happen, because there's too much posturing to get anything useful done.

3gyupsal said...

Since it is technically illegal, I'm guessing that the doctors bilk the patients and score some pretty good cash on the side. I agree that women should have the right to choose, and that abortions should be legal, but I get the feeling that there would be less of them if it wasn't such a scandal to be under 25 with a baby.

Rebecca said...

Canada's working on Roxanne's Law - a law stating that it's illegal to force a woman to get an abortion. Roxanne was killed by her boyfriend when she refused to abort their child. Sex-ed and easily available birth control would sure help, but let's also make sure that pro-choice really is pro-choice!
And I think it's pretty awesome that a single mom can pursue a master's degree in Canada too!