South Korean clinic performed abortion on wrong woman, police say

A posed picture of a pregnant woman. PHOTO: ST FILE

SEOUL (NYTIMES) - An expectant mother who visited a medical clinic in Seoul, South Korea, last month to receive a nutritional shot woke up hours later to learn she had mistakenly been given an abortion, police said Wednesday (Sept 25).

The police said they planned to ask prosecutors to indict the clinic's doctor and a nurse on charges of inflicting accidental injury. The staff, the police said, administered anesthesia and performed an abortion on the woman, a Vietnamese national, who was six weeks pregnant.

The police did not identify the woman, the doctor or the nurse. There have been no arrests.

An Chan-su, a police investigator, declined to confirm local news reports that the accidental abortion took place after medical charts were mixed up and the woman was mistaken for another patient seeking an abortion after a miscarriage.

In a landmark ruling in April, South Korea's Constitutional Court struck down a 66-year-old law that made performing an abortion a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, and gave Parliament until the end of 2020 to revise the law.

Under the current law, a woman who undergoes an abortion can also be punished with up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 2 million won (S$2,296.40). Abortions are legal in exceptional circumstances, including rape, incest or when a woman's health is at risk.

Doctors, however, can be charged only when they perform abortions intentionally, not by mistake, the police said. The current law also does not consider a fetus a human being, so the charge of accidental homicide cannot be applied in this case, they said.

Despite the ban on abortion, the practice is widespread and the law is rarely enforced. In 2017 alone, 49,700 abortions took place, nearly 94 per cent of them illegally, according to estimates released by the government-run Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. The actual number could be much higher, according to civic groups.

Between 2012 and 2017, just 80 women or doctors went to trial for their involvement in abortions, and only one of them served time in prison, with the rest receiving fines or suspended jail terms, according to court data.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court called the anti-abortion law "an unconstitutional restriction that violates a pregnant woman's right to choose." But it left it to Parliament to decide whether to restrict abortions in the late stages of a pregnancy.

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