Japan Accused of Being in 'Middle Ages' on Abortion Move

Abortion pill set to be approved soon, but a woman will reportedly need partner's consent to get it
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2022 8:28 AM CDT
Japan to OK Abortion Pill, With a Big Catch
Containers of the medication used to end an early pregnancy sit on a table inside a Planned Parenthood clinic on Oct. 29, 2021, in Fairview Heights, Ill.   (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Japan is said to be on the cusp of approving the abortion pill later this year, with an application from pharma firm Linepharma up for approval there. There'll be a major "but," however, tacked onto the law, one which has women's reproductive rights activists up in arms. Before a woman can get her hands on the pill—really a combination of two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, used in dozens of nations globally—her partner will be required to sign off on it, which is already required for surgical abortions, notes the Guardian. "In principle we believe that spousal consent is necessary, even if an abortion is induced by an oral medication," Yasuhiro Hashimoto, head of the Japanese Health Ministry's Children and Families Bureau, said earlier this month, per Bloomberg.

But critics say the mandate would be patriarchal and antiquated, though Bloomberg notes that Japan hasn't exactly been at the forefront of women's reproductive rights to begin with: Oral contraceptives weren't approved there until 1999, after a long fight to get the country's conservative Liberal Democratic Party to do so; the morning-after pill is still available only with a prescription. Meanwhile, the LDP-led government took just six months to green-light Viagra for erectile dysfunction. Japan is also one of less than a dozen countries that require third-party consent for abortion, notes the Guardian.

Detractors say that such required consent would be especially problematic if a woman couldn't track down her partner to get his OK, or if a woman had become pregnant after being sexually assaulted—some cases have already been reported in which doctors have refused to approve such abortions, despite the exception for rape. The cost of an abortion pill will also cause issues, as it's expected to run close to $800. "It is weird to require an approval from a spouse when taking a pill," says Mizuho Fukushima of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, per Bloomberg. "Is Japan still living in the Middle Ages?" Fortune runs down other nations where abortion access is being eased—not counting the US, which an Amnesty International representative calls "out of step with the progress that the rest of the world is making in protecting sexual and reproductive rights." (Read more abortion stories.)

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