Claire Junga Kim
Background: In 2019, the Constitutional Court of South Korea ruled that the anti-abortion provisions in the Criminal Act, which criminalize abortion, do not conform to the Constitution. This decision will lead to a total reversal of doctors’ legal duty from the obligation to refuse abortion services to their requirement to provide them, given the Medical Service Act that states that a doctor may not refuse a request for treatment or assistance in childbirth. I argue, confined to abortion services in Korea that will take place in the near future, that doctors should be granted the legal right to exercise conscientious objection to abortion.
Main text: Considering that doctors in Korea have been ethically and legally obligated to refrain from abortions for many years, imposing a universal legal duty to provide abortions that does not allow exception may endanger the moral integrity of individual doctors who chose a career when abortion was illegal. The universal imposition of such a duty may result in repudiation of doctors as moral agents and damage trust in doctors that forms the basis of medical professionalism. Even if conscientious objection to abortion is granted as a legal right, most patients would experience no impediment to receiving abortion services because the healthcare environment of Korea provides options in which patients can choose their doctors based on prior information, there are many doctors who would be willing to provide an abortion, and Korea is a relatively small country. Finally, the responsibility to effectively balance and guarantee the respective rights of the two agents involved in abortion, the doctor and the patient, should be imposed on the government rather than individual doctors. This assertion is based on the government’s past behaviours, the nature of its relationship with doctors, and the capacity it has to satisfy both doctors’ right to conscientious objection and patients’ right to legal medical services.
Conclusion: With regard to abortion services that will be sought in the near future, doctors should be granted the legal right to exercise conscientious objection based on the importance of doctor’s moral integrity, lack of impediment to patients, and government responsibility.
Kim CJ. Conscientious objection to abortion: Why it should be a specified legal right for doctors in South Korea. BMC Med Ethics Aug 06. 2020;21(70) .