19 February-9 March 2018
Item 4 of the provisional agenda
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
19.Noting the scarcity of information provided by the State party (para. 122 and annex I), please provide detailed information on the measures taken to implement the Committee’s recommendation contained in its previous concluding observations (para. 35) to consider reviewing legislation relating to abortion, in particular the Criminal Code, with a view to removing the punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo an abortion, and to provide them with access to high-quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortion, in accordance with the Committee’s general recommendation No. 24 (1999) on women and health, other than abortion prevention education and campaigns. In particular, in view of the reports received that, in 2016, the State party announced that it would increase the criminal penalties for medical service providers that perform abortions under the current restrictive laws, please indicate whether the State party intends to legalize abortion in the cases of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman and serious fetal impairment and to decriminalize it in all other cases, as recommended by the Committee. Please provide information on the steps taken to offer services in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights under the national health insurance coverage.
39.The government continuously conducts education and campaigns to prevent unwanted pregnancies and induced abortions. Efforts are made to expand the government support for promoting maternity health related to pregnancy and childbirth and to alleviate the burden of related medical expenses by covering more of such expense items under the National Health Insurance Scheme. If a pregnant woman has one of the following reasons to undergo an induced abortion as described in the Mother and Child Health Act, she is entitled to receive a safe abortion procedure at a medical institution under the National Health Insurance Scheme. Meanwhile, there are various opinions in the Republic of Korea over all different types of abortions, regarding the right to self-determination and the fetal right to life. The government will continue to deliberate on the issue with a view to finding a more reasonable solution suited for the changing social environment of Korea. In order to alleviate the burden of medical expense during pregnancy and childbirth, the government provides pregnant women with a debit card named Happy People Card to support their health management expense before and after the childbirth, within the scope covered by the National Health Insurance. The government is also in the process of expanding the coverage of the National Health Insurance to include critical medical expenses, such as medical examination expense before delivery, for pregnant women at high risk. In addition, the government operates a specialized counselling centre called Mother Safe Korea that offers free of charge counselling services to pregnant women, including the information about possible adverse effects related to the administration of ordinary medicine such as flu medicine and contraceptive pills as well as about the safe use of medicine. Nine integrated treatment centres are also in operation to protect the health of high-risk pregnant women.
Adopted by the Committee at its sixty-ninth session (19 February–9 March 2018).
1.The Committee considered the eighth periodic report of the Republic of Korea (CEDAW/C/KOR/8) at its 1576th and 1577th meetings (see CEDAW/C/SR.1576 and CEDAW/C/SR.1577), held on 22 February 2018. The Committee’s list of issues and questions is contained in CEDAW/C/KOR/Q/8 and the responses of the Republic of Korea are contained in CEDAW/C/KOR/Q/8/Add.1.
40.The Committee welcomes the efforts to improve health-care services for women, including the expansion of social and health-care services for older women with a low income. It is, however, concerned that the State party’s policies on sexual and reproductive health and rights narrowly focus on the health of married and pregnant women and family health. The Committee is also concerned that access by transgender persons to medical services is reportedly restricted and that intersex persons are reportedly subjected to irreversible sex assignment surgery, sterilization or “genital normalizing surgery” without their informed consent.
41. The Committee recommends that the State party review its health legislation and policies, in particular in relation to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, and take corrective action, if required, in order to advance substantive gender equality in the health sector to include all women subject to intersecting forms of discrimination. The Committee also recommends that the State party ensure that transgender persons have a right of access to medical services, including national health insurance coverage, and that intersex persons are not subjected to involuntary medical interventions.
42.The Committee expresses its concern that, even though abortion is legal under certain circumstances, including under the Mother and Child Health Act in cases of rape and incest, it remains a punishable offence under the Criminal Code. In addition, the Committee is concerned that, in September 2016, the Ministry of Health and Welfare reportedly defined abortion, in violation of the Act, as an unethical medical practice, thereby subjecting health-care professionals to criminal punishment and medical licence suspension. The Committee, however, welcomes the fact that that policy measure was later withdrawn and in that regard takes note of the information provided by the State party indicating that the constitutionality of the criminalization of abortion was being considered by the Constitutional Court.
43. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation ( CEDAW/C/KOR /CO/7 , para. 35) and, in view of the fact that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, calls upon the State party to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the pregnant woman, or severe fetal impairment, and to decriminalize it in all other cases, remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion and provide women with access to high-quality post-abortion care, in particular in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions.
Ms. Hofmeister said that the fertility rate in the State party was perhaps the lowest in the world, and, despite the Government’s past efforts, there was still clearly a serious shortage of births. The fact that abortion was still criminalized in the State party placed an immense burden on women, who had to assume full responsibility for sexual reproduction. Legalizing abortion in the event of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman or serious fetal impairment would help the situation, and the Committee had long ago recommended the decriminalization of all other cases of abortion as well. What obstacles kept the State party from acting on those recommendations? What prevented the State from improving the living and working conditions of young parents? The Committee would like to receive information about cross-border abortions and data on the mortality rate resulting from unsafe abortion.
Ms. Chung Hyun-back (Republic of Korea) said that the problem of the low fertility rate would never be resolved unless women had access to high-quality employment, which would be possible only when a culture of gender equality had been established.
Ms. Choi Hye-min (Republic of Korea) said that it was necessary to create an environment in which women could give birth rather than having an abortion. In 2018, a fact-finding survey on abortion would be carried out to shed light on the current situation. State-run education programmes on contraception would be delivered to adolescents and pilot counselling programmes at specialized institutions would be established. The Constitutional Court was currently reviewing a complaint related to the decriminalization of abortion.