South Korea proposes compromise abortion law after landmark court ruling

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Wednesday proposed allowing abortion up until the fourteenth week of pregnancy as part of a new law designed to comply with a landmark ruling by the constitutional court that struck down a decades-long ban.

South Korea criminalized abortion in 1953 when its leaders wanted to boost the population, but exceptions to the law were introduced in 1973, including when the pregnancy was caused by a sexual crime.

However, the Constitutional Court overturned the ban in April last year, saying it unconstitutionally curbed women’s rights and ordering the government to come up with a new law.

Under the new proposal, abortion would be banned after 14 weeks except in the case of a sex crime, or if the health of the mother is at risk, or if the fetus shows signs of severe birth defects, in which case abortion would be allowed up to 24 weeks, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

It also allowed the use of the drug mifepristone for performing abortions.

The proposal drew criticism from both sides of the debate, with women’s rights groups arguing that the law is still focused on punishing women.

Instead, any law should focus on how to safely provide the procedure, the Joint Action for Reproductive Justice in Seoul said in a statement.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea issued a statement opposing the justice ministry decision, saying that children should be protected “from the very moment of conception.”

Ahead of the court’s ruling, opinion polls showed around three-quarters of South Koreans supported dropping the ban.

South Korea has a fertility rate of 1.1 births per woman, the lowest of 198 countries and falling far behind the global average of 2.4, according to the 2020 United Nations Population Fund report.

China accuses U.S. at U.N. of trying to take world back to ‘jungle age’

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – China accused the United States on Friday of “fabricating lies” and trying to take the world back to the “jungle age” after Washington blamed Beijing and U.N. agencies for “the murder of millions of baby girls.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Friday said it regretted the accusations by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which were made at a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Thursday on the anniversary of a landmark 1995 women’s conference.

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem told reporters that any coercion of women was “against our practice and policy.”

“We accord the highest priority to voluntary sexual and reproductive health, rights, and procedures,” she said. “We have invited reviews of, in the case of UNFPA, our practice and procedures in the country of China, and for the past four years, the United States has not visited our programs.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration cut funding in 2017 for UNFPA, saying it “supports … a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.

DeVos and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who issued a statement on Thursday, both accused China of subjecting Uighurs and other minorities to forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control devices.

A spokesperson for China’s U.N. mission in New York said in a statement that the remarks were “sheer fabrication.”

“Some U.S. politicians lie and cheat as a habit,” the spokesperson said. “They maliciously create political confrontation and undermine multilateral cooperation. The United States, going against the trend of the times, is becoming the biggest destroyer of the existing international order and trying all means to take the world back to the ‘jungle age.'”

Long-simmering tensions between the United States and China have hit the boiling point at the United Nations over the coronavirus pandemic, spotlighting Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional leadership.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pregnant in a war zone: What are your choices?

Queen Rania of Jordan meets with Syrian refugee women during her visit at the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Yemen women give birth in caves to avoid air strikes, in war-torn Syria child marriages are increasing, while in eastern Ukraine, where conflict has been raging for two years, domestic violence is rising, aid agencies have been reporting.

Even though these scenarios are typical of the hardships faced by women in conflict zones or disasters, too little is being done to address their needs beyond providing them with the most basic humanitarian aid, said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“The focus is on water, food and shelter and that’s crucial and life-saving but life does go on in conflicts and disasters, including sex and births,” Osotimehin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in London.

Numerous studies have shown women in need of aid because of conflict or disaster are more vulnerable to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, he said.

An UNFPA report last December said more than 500 women a day die from complications arising from pregnancy and child birth in countries facing conflict or disaster.

“Even in peaceful times, it can be difficult to become a mother. But in a war zone, on a boat with smugglers, or in a refugee camp, being pregnant is truly daunting,” Osotimehin, a physician and former Nigerian minister of health, said.

As humanitarian crises have multiplied in recent years and more than 100 million people now being in need of assistance, women’s health and reproductive rights are often an afterthought, he said.


UNFPA said in February it is seeking $107 million to meet the needs of women and girls affected by the war in Syria, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Four million people out of around 13.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria are women and girls of childbearing age, U.N. data shows.

Among those who have taken refuge in neighboring countries, 1.2 million are of childbearing age.

Osotimehin said child marriage is now being used by desperate parents in Syria, who fear for the safety of their daughters and marry them off in the hope that they will be protected and provided with food and other necessities.

In other war-torn countries the needs of women and girls are equally pressing.

In Yemen, where war has been raging for more than a year, Medecins Sans Frontiers said in February that pregnant women had been seeking shelter in caves to give birth rather than risk going to a hospital.

Osotimehin urged world leaders and aid agencies gathering for the first humanitarian summit in Istanbul, Turkey, later this month to make women’s and girls needs a key part of the humanitarian response as standard.

“It is crucial to direct humanitarian aid to protect women of childbearing age, both to lessen present suffering and reduce it in the future, but current resources are insufficient,” he said.


Global leaders launched a new women, peace and security program last March, including workshops, training and guidelines to ensure that gender equality and the needs of women and girls are an integral part of the humanitarian response.

While there has been no lack of talk about the needs of women in conflict zones, too little is being done to translate words into concrete and coordinated action, said Osotimehin.

The U.N. adopted a resolution on women, peace and security in 2000 and a call to action saw donors and international agencies commit in 2013 to reducing violence against women in emergencies, while a London summit in 2014 agreed steps to tackle impunity for the use of rape as weapon of war.

Despite those efforts it is unclear how much money is being invested on these issues because there is no uniform way of reporting funding and what it is spent on, said Osotimehin.

(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit to see more stories)