These “black protesters” want to put an end to South Korea’s outdated abortion law, which activists argue places most of the burden on women, who must not only bear the brunt of the pregnancy, but also face the social stigma and shame surrounding abortion.
Abortion is technically illegal, but has taken place for decades without too much fear of actual punishment. Out of the tens of thousands of procedures that are estimated to take place annually, only a handful of cases get penalized by the state.
But the narrative has dramatically reversed from decades ago, when the government was trying to control the burgeoning population, and actually gave women benefits for using birth control and having fewer children.
Now, South Korea is a rapidly aging society with a declining population. Giving birth is discussed as a matter of survival. Again, women’s roles are being spoken of as reproductive vehicles, and those who don’t want to have children often get shamed — including at schools. In September 2016, the Ministry of Health announced that doctors who perform illegal abortion procedures will receive stronger punishment; their licenses can be suspended for as long as 12 months.
This is how the Black Protests started. Since October 2016, protesters have come out onto the streets — nationwide — to repeal the abortion law. Stop the law that portrays abortion as a shameful sin. Stop the law that limits women’s ability to make choices.
The debate is ongoing. There are hundreds of thousands of signatures supporting the Black Protests, but there are just as many, if not more, that condemn abortion, including the powerful Christian lobby.
Cover image: “Black protesters” marching past Gwanghwamun, Seoul. (Youjin Do/Korea Exposé)