My Abortion in Korea

By Melissa Salvatore

This is a story of my experience with abortion as an expat in Busan, South Korea. I understand this is a controversial issue, and I am neither trying to encourage nor discourage abortion to other women. I simply want to use my story as an example of having this experience here and to provide other women with options and resources available to them. It is said that abortion is one of the loneliest experiences a woman can ever go through. I want women here to know that they are not alone, and have support.

BUSAN, South Korea -- At the time I lived in South Korea, abortion was (and may still be) illegal, but also a widespread procedure performed safely in cilics ad hospitals everywhere, with upwards of 350,000 abortions performed each year according to a government report. I had come across this information while researching Busan prior to my arrival. I took note with the hope that I would never find myself in such a situation.

No words I can write about the experience would adequately illustrate the shock, fear, and sorrow I experienced at that moment I discovered I was pregnant. I  went on auto-pilot. I had recently heard of a local hospital that offered English translation services, and contacted them right away. The woman in charge of handling such cases had me send her an email with my basic information and asked me to come in immediately. She was a godsend fore me, sticking with me and giving me support the whole way through. 

I met with the doctor. A vaginal ultrasound was performed, confirming I was pregnant. Based on the dates of my last cycle, we determined that I’d conceived about three weeks earlier. I asked about abortion and at first – the doctor said it was illegal, then the translator said something to her in Korean and suddenly they were telling me how it could be done.  There was initially a chance I would be referred elsewhere, but, in the end, the right strings were pulled and I was allowed to schedule an appointment for the following Saturday at the hospital. I still wasn’t sure I would go through with it, but knew that if I were to make that choice, I would want it done as soon as possible. 

I contacted the father right away. I knew ultimately this would be my choice, but wanted to take his feelings into account, and hoped we could be on the same page. He tried hard to say the right thing and told me he would support me with whatever I decided. We spoke once the day I found out, and once after the pregnancy was terminated. Our phone conversations were peaceful and ended well. He said he was sorry for what I had to go through which was really important for me to hear, but in retrospect I think I allowed him to separate himself too much from the situation. He offered to help pay for the $500 in medical fees but never followed through, and then de-friended me on Facebook.

I felt like choosing whether or not to give life is the most powerful decision in the world, but also its greatest burden. It all fell to me, and either way my life was forever changed. In the end, I had to focus on what I believed would, at present, be the best thing for me to do. This was my life, and my chance to really take charge of it through this choice.

The day of the surgery, I had to provide written authorization from the father to be able to have the procedure. Since he lived in a different city, he verbally consented for my friend to sign on his behalf. At the hospital, the woman who provided English translation services and a close friend were with me the whole way through, and I am eternally grateful to them for that. The doctor was a funny man who tried to make me feel comfortable, but also asked me why I chose to be hairless and whether my vaginal piercing made sex more pleasurable as he poked at it.

He was the only doctor in the hospital who could perform the procedure, and although I wish I had more options and fewer language barriers to work through, I was comforted by how the staff seemed entirely accostomed to performing or assisting in abortions. My impression was that this was something that was done regularly. I importantly felt assured that the procedure was being performed safely. 

The surgery itself was honestly horrible (although since this happened I have corresponded with many women who had much more positive experiences than I did). I was given a local anaesthetic, but was awake and felt everything, which was like my insides were being butchered. I was also in the Labor/Delivery unit, and therefore surrounded by expectant mothers, hearing babies being born as I ended my own pregnancy. At the time, I didn’t know that the embryo could not experience pain (nerve endings are only developed in the third trimester) and was petrified that it could feel what was happening. I sobbed uncontrollably while the doctor tapped my legs and told me to relax. I prayed. I said sorry a million times, I felt the weight of permanence in this decision. It was like a scene out of a very graphic, sad movie, only it was real and I was living it.

The first two hours after surgery were painful and uncomfortable. By the time I left I felt okay. Physically the recovery was quick. I didn’t have to miss work nor did I experience any more pain, and it took about a month for my cycle and hormone’s to regulate. I went to a women’s clinic closer to my home with a wonderful woman doctor for follow-ups and there were no complications. Emotionally, it was more difficult for me to cope, especially when my hormone levels were still elevated and fluctuating. Over the phone, I sought out decision counselling before the abortion, as well as post-abortion counselling, and was referred to articles and exercises that supported my healing process. 

I highly recommend that women in need of such support seek out similar resources (being mindful that some organizations will present as being comprehensive in their "options" counselling services when they are in fact anti-abortion and will provide false information in their consultations).

Here are some reputable, non-judgemental resources that will provide genuine support and accurate information: 

I published this article about four months after my abortion, and it has now been over ten years since it all happened. I still think about it, but always knowing that I made the right choice for myself. Although the circumstances were not ideal, I thank my lucky stars that I was in a place where I was able to access abortion services, and that the procedure was performed safely. I am also grateful for the counselling support I received from the above-mentioned organizations, and my close family of friends in Busan who I could confide in.

I want to especially give credit to Korean women. The bonds between women I experienced with friends I made, and witnessed between others, during my time in Busan, were remarkable. I encountered many health care workers in this process and every woman nurse, receptionist, coordinator, pharmacist, and doctor was 100% sympathetic, respectful, and non-judgemental. Throughout the surgery, a nurse held my hand, dried my tears, and gave me comfort without being able to communicate through words.

I have now established a career supporting women in need because of those who helped me.

If you unexpectedly become pregnant while in South Korea, even when you are far away from your family, friends, and everything familiar to you, you are not alone. Whatever path you decide is best for you to take, you have support, you have options, and you have resources right here for you in Busan.

For any questions or referrals you can contact me through  [email protected]

An Abortions rights protest last year in Korea (read more at The Grand Narrative)


Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thank you for posting this article. I had an abortion in Korea also, around the same time as you. I had only been here a short time and was scared to talk to anyone because I knew that abortion was illegal and I was worried about what people would think of me. In hindsight I wish I had spoken to my friends about this decision first. I did not have such a positive experience as you did at the hospital. I did not seek counselling though, I tried to put it behind me but have found it impossible.

My relationship with my boyfriend broke down quickly after because I was so depressed and he could not understand me. I told some of my friends after and I definitely agree with that part of your article -Korean women are amazing. I couldn't have lived through the last few months without them. The physical affects did not last long but sometimes I am worried I can never recover in other ways. I don't feel like the same person as before. I know I made the right decision for me in many ways but that doesn't stop me feeling guilty and regretful.

Thanks for posting this. In spite of how amazing my friends have been, noone can really understand what this feels like. It was good to hear your story. Sorry for what you went through.

Re: My Abortion in Korea

thank you for that beautiful article. Hope it can help improve the situation and give women the right to choose without having to be outside of the law. Well, glad it went well at the hospital and indeed Korean women know how to stick together. Experienced that solidarity and understanding not by getting something serious like an abortion but just at a regular exam at the gynecologist. They know how to comfort you and make you feel better. For the first time of my life I left the doctor's office laughing! About the abortion, I think you are really brave to share such a personnal story and feelings. It's good to know that there are women ready to help! Good luck for the following and truly respect your choice.

Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hello and thanks so much for sharing your story.  Would you be so kind as to send me the name of the hospital/clinic that aided you?  I would be very grateful.  I have enclused my contact information.  Thank you very much.. and once again, thank you for sharing your experience.


[email protected]

Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Jose,

Thank you so much for your feedback! I just replied to your email.

All the best,


Re: My Abortion in Korea

I just want to let you know how strong I think you are.

I happened to stumble upon this article only a few minutes ago, and I am very shocked and amazed at your experience.

Also worrying about the possibility of needing an abortion while here in Korea (it's only been just over a month for myself, yet my boyfriend has been unsympathetic of the idea that I could potentially get pregnant and be entirely unprepared for such a life changing event).

It's so good to know that after having found and gone through the procedure here that you are well. That kind of decision is a very difficult one to make, but I can understand why one makes that decision.

Hopefully, I will be able to make close female friends here to aid me in serious times of need as well.

I wish you the best of luck.


Ayanna :) ([email protected])

Re: My Abortion in Korea

This article gives me hope. I've felt very trapped. Thank you for sharing your story. I emailed you about specifics but also wanted to say how brave ypu are and helping a lot of people. Thank you so much. Melissa

Re: My Abortion in Korea


I generally prefer to send private messages but just want to say a general thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this article, as well as for all the feedback I have received which means more to me than I can ever put into words.

Over a year from when this article was first posted I still continuously get emails asking for support/referrals and try to help as best I can with the information I have. Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

I also invite anyone who knows of hospitals/clinics in Korea that provide abortion services, and is comfortable sharing, to email me the contact information of these places so I can give as many resources as possible to those who ask (correspondence is always kept confidential and I never disclose where I get this information from).

Thank you, KoreaBridge, for your willingness to publish this article, thus creating a venue through which women can connect and support each other in what can be such a lonely, difficult experience.

Kind Regards


Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi! I just emailed you, please let me know if there are any more issues. 

All the best


Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Melissa -

I sent you a private email, hoping to get some information and I was just wondering if you'd had a chance to read it yet.  I'm sorry to push but, as I'm sure you remember, my situation is a very anxious one.  Any information about clinics/hospitals in my area would be so greaty appreciated (or even the information about the place in Busan that you went to).


Thank you so much!



Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Ann, I'm sorry for the delay as I am in a different time zone; I definitely understand the anxiety! I just replied to your email with information I hope will be helpful to you. 

All the best,


Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thank you so much for your post.


I am a student living in Seoul with a similar situation and would really appreciate some help.

I have sent you an email, but in case you see this first, my email is [email protected] and would be extremely grateful for some information about hospitals in Seoul that can perform the procedure.

Thanks so much.

Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi there Melissa,

I just emailed you at the address given in the article, just want to check that it's still current/relevant. If not, could you please email me - [email protected]


Thank you.

Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi! I just replied to your email. I hope it helps! 

For those who read this in the future and would like information, the best way to reach me is by emailing me directly at [email protected]. I still continuously correspond with women and couples regarding this article/subject matter and am happy to help in whatever way I can. As I am in a different time zone I try my best to reply within 24-48hours. 

All the best


Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thank you so much for your story. By any chance could you email me more details about the place you went to and how you got a translator to accompany you. Thanks. [email protected]

Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi everyone,

just a quick message to anyone who comes across this article and needs information/support: I am still happy to help you in whatever way I can! Please just be sure to email me directly versus trying to reach me through here. I don't come onto Koreabridge often anymore so if you PM me here or comment on this post I might not see it in time to be able to give you the info/referrals you need. I check my email [email protected] regularly and usually respond within 24-48hours.

Thanks again for reading and supporting this article!