The Catholic Church in Korea has issued successive statements criticising legislative proposals to decriminalise abortion and introduce a controversial new anti-discrimination bill.
On September 2, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea issued a strongly worded statement expressing its “deepest regret” about the recent submission by the Ministry of Justice’s Committee on Gender Equality Policy, which recommended decriminalising abortions for all stages of pregnancy.
Abortion is currently illegal in South Korea except for cases such as rape or when the mother’s health is at risk, but the government of President Moon Jae-in, a Catholic and a liberal, is currently working to change these laws.
The recent recommendations attempt to comply with a majority Constitutional Court decision in April 2019, which ruled that existing criminalisation of abortion was unconstitutional and that Parliament had until December 31, 2020, to revise the abortion laws before they become null and void.
In their statement, the Korean bishops noted, however, that the 2019 court ruling still “recognized protecting a fetus’ life as the public good”, as previous Constitutional Court rulings had done. Therefore, according to the bishops, “the government tries to deny the fetus’ [constitutional] right to life” in the Commission’s recommendation, which itself is “an act of renouncing the national obligation declared by the Constitutional Court.”
The bishops further emphasised the radical framing of the proposed decriminalisation by noting that “even many countries that approve the legislation of abortion strictly regulate the availability of abortion with consideration of the pregnancy weeks, and provide prior-consultation to those who consider abortion.”
The statement said that the changes to existing abortion laws had been pushed by the media, which “advocates for crimes against human life under the pretext of protecting individual happiness and freedom”, but the bishops said that the laws of the country must instead be founded upon “universal human values and natural law, such as human rights, common good, solidarity, love and justice, which are deeply rooted in respect for human life.”
Then, on September 7, the Korean Bishops’ Conference released another statement, this time responding to an anti-discrimination bill proposed by Rep Jang Hye-young from the minor progressive opposition Justice Party, which calls for punitive measures for discrimination based on 26 different categories, including sexual orientation and sexual identity.
The bishops said that they “agree on its primary purpose to ban [all] types of discrimination” but raised concerns about the bill’s framework for “gender and sexual identity” discrimination.
The statement began by citing Pope Francis’ command in Amoris Laetitia that “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
But the bishops warned also of the risk of a “reverse discrimination” that uses anti-discrimination law to marginalize traditional views and promote an alternate progressive agenda.
“The bill mentions three different types of gender; male, female and a third gender and sexual identity as a way of people’s perception toward their gender,” the bishops noted. “But this cannot be used as grounds to deny that there exist only two genders; male and female.”
The statement said that whilst the “bill itself doesn’t mention same-sex marriage”, such passages still suggest it is allied with “various movements that deem unions of same-sex people something akin to marriage or God’s view of family.”
“The love between man and woman and the importance of marriage and family form the basis of human dignity in the Constitution,” the bishops said. “So, love and family should be protected by society and the nation and they should not be ignored under the name of anti-discrimination.”
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