Women in Japan could be forced to seek their partner’s consent before being prescribed the abortion pill, which would be approved at the end of this year – three decades after it was made available to women in the UK.
Under Japan’s 1948 Maternal Protection Law, consent is already required for surgical abortions – with very few exceptions – a policy that activists say flouts women’s reproductive rights.
“In principle, we believe spousal consent is necessary, even if an abortion is induced by oral medication,” senior Health Ministry official Yasuhiro Hashimoto told a parliamentary committee earlier this month, according to Bloomberg. .
Campaigners are calling on health authorities to drop the rule requiring women to get written consent from their partner before a doctor can prescribe a course of abortive drugs.
Kumi Tsukahara, founding member of Action for Safe Abortion Japan, said, “’Spousal consent’ becomes an issue when there is a disagreement with the spouse or the spouse forces the woman to give birth against her will.
“For women, being forced into a pregnancy they don’t want is violence and a form of torture.”
Politics can have tragic consequences. Last year, a 21-year-old woman was arrested after the body of her newborn baby was found in a park in central Japan. The woman, who received a suspended prison sentence, told the court she could not terminate her pregnancy because she was unable to obtain written consent from her partner.
Doctors had insisted she get consent, although the Department of Health later said hers was one of the few cases where it was not needed because the father could not be contacted.
Japanese media also reported cases in which doctors refused to approve an abortion for women who had been sexually assaulted, prompting Health Ministry officials to write to the Japanese Medical Association to clarify that consent n is not required in rape cases.
Campaigners say Japan’s failure to approve a drug that has long been available in more than 70 other countries reflects the low priority the country’s parliament and the country’s male-dominated medical community place on women’s health.
Japan took 40 years to approve oral contraceptives, in 1999, according to Tsukahara, but only six months to approve the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.
In December last year, British pharmaceutical company Linepharma International applied for approval of a combination of two drugs to terminate pregnancy, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, adding that approval was expected within a year of the request.
Japan, where 145,000 surgical abortions were performed in 2020, is one of only 11 countries that require third-party consent for abortions, despite calls to end the practice by the World Health Organization. Health and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
“Spousal consent is not required for abortion and should be removed from the maternal protection law,” said Chiaki Shirai, a professor at Shizuoka University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Safe abortion campaigners have warned that the abortion pill, which will not be covered by national health insurance, will be prohibitively expensive for many women.
Japanese media reports that the cost of a single dose could be around ¥100,000 ($780) – about the same price as a surgical abortion, and that women taking it should do so under medical supervision. strict, possibly including hospitalization.
“The reality is that for some women abortion is not possible for financial reasons,” Shirai said. “Contraception, abortion, pregnancy and childbirth should all be publicly funded.”
Mizuho Fukushima, a lawmaker from the opposition Social Democrats, warned that the high cost of surgical abortions and the consent requirement are forcing women to experience unwanted pregnancies.
“Women are not the property of men,” Fukushima told parliament this month. “Their rights, not human rights, must be protected. Why should a woman need her partner’s approval? It is his body.