South Korea: Censorship of telemedical services as a form of denying abortion access

South Korea is currently in the throes of legal limbo concerning abortion laws that have remained virtually untouched since 1953. In April 2019, South Korea’s Constitutional Court determined that the long-standing ban on abortion was unconstitutional and gave the country until December 2020 to reform its abortion laws. Well, December has come and gone and while technically decriminalised, the country remains in legislative purgatory. Telemedical abortion service and advocacy platform, Women on Web, a service which prescribes the medicines that make up the abortion pill, Mifepristone and Misoprostol, to areas where abortion is restricted, first experienced a censorship of its main website in March 2019 and then again to a sister website in June 2020, right in the middle of a global pandemic.

The reason cited for the censorship issued by the Korean Communications Standard Commission (KCSC) was that the website was in violation of the country’s Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, given both Mifepristone and Misoprostol are outlawed drugs. Mifepristone and Misoprostol have both been deemed safe and essential by the World Health Organization (WHO) yet despite this, South Korea has upheld its ban against the drugs and maintains strict policies surrounding the prescribing and dispensing of medicines. South Korea’s reluctance to move forward with abortion legislation coupled with its unwillingness to review the gaps left by its pharmaceutical laws marks yet another example of governments justifying the denial of abortion access due to the violation of another law. This is an example of imposed false argumentation in order to maintain control over an aspect of the body politic, namely in this case, women’s health and bodily autonomy. Maintaining this control means further defence of the slippery slope of censorship exhibited by South Korea that seeks to keep its people in the dark about important health and contraceptive issues.

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