Every week or so, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Got a question? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
Today’s question is: How common is abortion in North Korea?
Abortion happens in North Korea, too. I bet it is more common for North Koreans than South Koreans, because of the lack of birth control in the country.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that birth control doesn’t exist at all in North Korea. It is seen as bad for the morals of society for men and women to have sex, and it is believed that it is important for people to be virgins before marriage. Because such notions are widespread, North Koreans do not receive proper sex education.
Unless some dramatic change has occurred in the country since I left six years ago, many North Koreans still don’t even know what condoms are.
When I was a kid, a vendor in my neighborhood had balloons which were so sturdy that every kid in the neighborhood wanted to blow them.
They were so popular that I hardly could go to sleep at the thought of buying one the next day. In retrospect, I want to almost throw up when I think about it. It is probably inconceivable for you all… but, they were condoms, not balloons!
Birth control doesn’t exist at all in North Korea
Of course, everyone in the neighborhood thought they were balloons. If any of the adults in the neighborhood knew that they were condoms, they would have stopped us from blowing them. But since no one knew what condoms were, all the kids in the neighborhood had fun blowing them.
This lack of knowledge about birth control means that many women suffer from unplanned pregnancies. Individuals need to pay for all the medical procedures, the drugs, etc.
Abortion is very expensive in North Korea.
In the past, if people were friends with an obstetrician, they would bring liquor and cigarettes and ask them to perform the operation as a favor. Some women fell into comas and became disabled due to doctors performing in unhygienic conditions and the shortage of proper medical equipment.
Because of the dangers, people began to avoid having abortions performed by obstetricians at the hospital, and many doctors began to perform abortions in more hygienic conditions and in the possession of proper medical equipment at their homes.
Abortion is very expensive in North Korea
When I was in North Korea, it was more expensive to have an abortion at the home of the obstetrician than in their clinics, but it was far safer.
Of course, it was illegal for obstetricians to perform surgery at their homes. But they made a lot of money from these operations, and they could always get away with it by bribing the authorities.
It was a different story if the woman died during the surgery, but it was rarely the obstetricians who got in trouble. Family members of the woman might bring a lawsuit, yet doctors would rarely get punished unless they could prove that the doctor had deliberately killed the woman.
Anyway, judges usually rule in favor of people with money in North Korea.
Until I was in high school, whenever I heard about someone getting pregnant or having an abortion, I was genuinely shocked. I thought to myself: “it must be humiliating for a women to lose her virginity and get pregnant before marriage. But it is worse to have an abortion.”
But I don’t believe that anymore. The way I see the world has dramatically changed since the time I lived in North Korea, and I don’t judge women who get pregnant before marriage or who choose to have abortions.
In my senior year of high school, several of my classmates terminated unwanted pregnancies. We couldn’t talk about it at the time, but when I met up with them again after graduation, I could finally talk about it. They told me it was difficult both emotionally and physically.
Women should not be criticized for losing their virginity before marriage. I think it is very unfortunate and unfair that they take full responsibility and bear criticism: you cannot get pregnant without a man, can you? I feel sorry for women of North Korea who are subject to harsh criticism for unplanned pregnancy. I sincerely hope that women of North Korea can receive proper sex education and have access to birth control very soon.
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Adam Westerman