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The abortion movement in Japan


IN JAPAN, there are three main laws related to abortion, Criminal Law, the Law for Protection of Mothers' Bodies (before revision, it was called the Eugenic Protection Law), and the Maternal and Child Health Law.

Criminal Law was enacted in 1880, and penalises both the pregnant woman and the person who performed an abortion, as a crime of Feticide. Applying this law, many women were imprisoned, especially during wartime.

After World War 11, the "Crime of Feticide" remained. Induced abortions were legalised by the Eugenic Protection Law enacted in 1948 under certain conditions. From 1949 the conditions included the following; 1) Eugenic reason, 2) Medico-economic reason, and 3) Rape. In 1996 the Eugenic Protection Law was partially revised. Accordingly it is now called the Law for Protection of Mothers' Bodies whereby the eugenic reason for abortion was deleted. But to have an abortion, judgment by a doctor and an agreement by male spouse of the pregnant woman are needed, so the women's right to choose has not yet been guaranteed.

"The Maternal and Child Health Law" locates and protects a woman's body only as "a function to bear healthy children".

In Japan, there are two main issues related to abortion. One is how to defend abortion rights in the climate of backlash against gender equality and reproductive rights. The other is how to realise social justice in having an abortion and using medical services which are used before the human ovum is implanted into a woman's uterus, while more and more life science technologies become advertised.

Movements against backlash vs. abortion rights

In Japan, economic reason has been applied most often by women who become unintentionally pregnant and wish to have an abortion. There have been, however, many backlash movements to attempt to delete the economic reason article, so the Women's Liberation Movement has actively fought to defend abortion rights.

For example, "Seicho-No-Ie" has campaigned to delete the economic reason article as a reason for abortions and also campaigned against the practice of birth control since the 1950's. "Seicho-No-Ie" submitted the Eugenic Protection Law Reform Bill to delete the economic reason article and add the fetus article, to the Diet in 1972 and 1973, but the reform bill did not pass due to insufficient discussion and examination. During the Reagan Administration, "Seicho-No-Ie" dispatched a pro-life delegate to the National Prayer Power Breakfast and cooperated with the Moral Majority. In 1983, Mr. Masakuni Murakami, a Diet member, participated in the U.S. Life Respect Meeting, which was also attended by former president Reagan. In this background, "Seicho-No-Ie" attempted to re-submit the Eugenic Protection Law Reform Bill intending to delete an economic reason article in 1982, but the attempt was failed due to resistance from the Women's Liberation Movement, the movement by people with disabilities, the Japan Family Planning Association, and other many groups.
In 1991, pro-life groups organised the International Life Respect Tokyo Meeting, receiving support from the Life Issue Institute. The Life Respect Center established the Yen-bryo (embryo) Fund in 1993 to prevent abortions for economic distress. Many Catholic pro-life organisations were established in Japan at that time, including Japan Life Issue Net, which has actively disseminated pro-life information from the Holy See in Japan since 1987.
Since the ICPD (1994), the word "reproductive health/rights" has been used gradually by public women's centers and local public entities in Japan. The idea of respecting a woman's choice has gradually come into use. After 2001, however, the neo-conservatives who helped establish U.S. Bush Administration strengthened pressure on the Japanese government to insert conservative family values, including denying abortion rights, into Japanese policy.
As a result, the national second Gender Equality Basic Plan (2005) was extensively altered to limit reproductive rights. The national first Gender Equality Basic Plan (2000) stated that "reproductive health rights include the rights to choose whether we give birth or not, when we give birth, and how many children we bear. General provisions to promote women's health throughout their lives are needed from the view point of reproductive health/rightsmWTh e national second Gender Equality Basic Plan, however, states that"the Japanese government does not accept abortion rights beyond the description of law because abortion is covered by Criminal Law and the Law for Protection of Mothers' Bodies."
In addition, a hospital, which objects abortions from the Catholic antiabortionist point of view, established in 2007 the "stork cradle," which anonymously receives newborn babies from parents who cannot raise them.

Relationship between women's movement and movement of people with disabilities

In Japan, the Women's Liberation Movement for example "SOSHEREN" has brought the close relationship; from collision to cooperation with the movement of people with disabilities in the movement for preventing the Eugenic Protection Law from a change for the worse. The Eugenic Protection Law aimed at "preventing birth of a bad descendant from the eugenic standpoint". The Law promoted sterilization, even though what women had wanted was the rights to contraception and abortion. In addition, the fetus article to admit an abortion when the fetus has a disability was controversial in the protest movement against the attempt to change the Eugenic Protection Law for the worse. People with disabilities were afraid that fetus with disabilities would be aborted selectively if abortion rights were guaranteed. Therefore women's movement discussed the issue with many people with disabilities and went ahead through a movement for preventing the Eugenic Protection Law from a change for the worse. The women's movement insisted that the society where every woman can bear any child should be developed.
Although the technology, such as prenatal diagnosis and pre-implantation diagnosis to select a fetus, has been developed, the women's movement has opposed selecting a fetus by its condition such as having an disability or by its sex, and has objected to the eugenic thought to torment not only people with disabilities but also women who bore a child with disabilities.But the women's movement has taken the standpoint clearly that a woman who performed any abortion should not be punished by the law, even if she had an abortion not to bear a fetus with disabilities.
These are the main features of the movement on abortion in Japan.


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