SOUTH KOREA – Abortion consultation now in public health insurance, but women need funded services too

Although the criminal law on abortion was nullified as of 31 December 2020, following a landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court in April 2019, women do not yet have the right of access to termination of pregnancy. According to a recent survey by the Korea Women’s Development Institute, 82% of women seeking abortions face obstacles due to high hospital charges because abortion is not included in the state insurance system. Prices vary by hospital and are high priced in many cases.
Although abortion is no longer criminalised in Korea, reforms are “pending” in the National Assembly, with the health ministry delaying introduction of services – citing a lack of legal basis.

From August 2021, as a first reform, pregnant women can have a one-on-one consultation with a physician, during which they will be provided with overall guidance on the abortion procedure, pre- and post-operative instructions, and possible risks and complications arising from the procedure.

These consultations will be reasonably priced, as the cost has now been included in the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The fee has been set at around 30,000 won (US$ 26), of which the patient must pay 30–60%, depending on the type of hospital they visit, with the remaining amount covered by the NHIS.

Pro-choice groups welcomed the reform, but have been urging the government to include the abortion itself under the state health insurance system too. “This is the first time the government has included an abortion-related medical service in the public healthcare system. We hope this approach will continue with a guarantee of safe abortions for all women,” Na-young, head of Joint Action for Reproductive Justice, the coalition of pro-choice groups, said. She wondered if there might not be a big demand for consultations only, since what matters is whether the woman will actually be able to have an abortion at a reasonable price.

SOURCE: Korean Times, by Lee Hyo-jin, 3 August 2021 + PHOTO by Hong In-ki, 8 March 2021, in Seoul – press conference by members of Joint Action for Reproductive Justice to include abortion in public health system