In South Korea, a physician and nurse are facing charges after performing an abortion on the wrong patient. The woman, who was expecting to receive a nutritional shot, was instead injected with anesthesia without her knowledge and underwent an abortion. She was six-weeks pregnant. 

The physician and nurse have admitted fault in this situation and are both under an investigation. The medical professionals may face charges of negligence resulting in bodily harm as neither double checked the patient’s charts or identity before beginning.

This case is a tragedy for the woman who lost her child and for the entire country of South Korea. For the last several years, fertility rates in the country have remained some of the lowest in the world. The loss of this child is a reminder that every child born is precious.

A recent report from the government revealed that the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime has dropped to an abysmal 0.98, which is less than one child per woman. South Korea isn’t the only country in the region with this problem, Japan also continues to struggle with an extremely low fertility rate.

Part of the problem for both countries is the demand of work schedules on professionals. To help alleviate this problem, South Korea lowered the maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to only 52. To put that in perspective, most Americans work about a 40-hour work week, which means that South Koreans work about 30% more hours per week than Americans under the new regulations. That’s an incredible strain on families, not to mention the amount of commuter travel that could potentially add hours to every day. 

Another problem facing South Koreans and contributing to a lower birth rate is the cultural stigma around single motherhood. A child born out of wedlock is often considered a stain on the family, and mothers are either pressured to abort or give the child up for adoption. But that also has its own risks. The government requires that children, whether raised or adopted, are registered after birth with the mother’s information, and those records are routinely used for many purposes. Giving a child up for adoption could impact both her future employment opportunities and marriage prospects. For a young woman in a society that puts great importance on tradition and bloodlines, that requirement means that she is more likely to seek an abortion or abandon her child.

That’s why many women turn to the “baby box” run by Pastor Lee Jong-rak of Jusarang Community Church. He set up the box after hearing about women who abandoned their babies on the streets or in public restrooms, and he wanted to give them a safe place to leave their child where the baby could be taken to the hospital without having to officially register the child with the government. According to Pastor Lee, more than half of the women are 20 years old and younger and most were either unwed or victims of sexual assault. Since opening the “baby box,” more than 1,500 infants have been saved. 

Abortion in South Korea has always been a controversial issue. Although performing an abortion was a criminal offense that could result in a two-year prison sentence, the law was rarely enforced. According to officials, there were 49,700 abortions in 2017. There are efforts to revise the law surrounding abortion. South Korea’s Constitutional Court gave Parliament until 2020 to make a change.

It’s tragic that a medical mistake resulted in the loss of a preborn baby, especially for a country in the midst of a fertility crisis. Hopefully, a case like this will remind physicians and nurses across the world to make sure that they double check the charts before completing an abortion. Tragedies like this should never happen. 

Pastor Lee was at the center of Focus on the Family’s documentary The Drop Box. The film tells the story of his incredible ministry to help abandoned babies and his adoption of children with disabilities. You can purchase The Drop Box here.