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Permission for a Pill?

Japan is set to approve at-home abortion pills, but they can only be prescribed with a partner’s consent, which places Japanese women in a difficult situation

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare plans to approve the at-home abortion pill mifepristone (also known as misoprostol, which is its generic title) by Linepharma International later this year. These pills can only be prescribed with a partner’s written consent. If prescribed, the medication would cost over $750 and women would likely have to stay at a hospital or a medical center after taking it to allow doctors to monitor them.

The mifepristone pill is already available in 70 countries, including the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the medication for use in the U.S. in 2000, and it is widely used across the country today as another form of reproductive health care.

In Japan, only surgical abortions are currently allowed through the Maternal Health Act/Maternal Health Protection Law. These abortions require the partner’s permission, but the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has allowed exceptions for rape and for victims of domestic violence. Not all doctors and clinics follow these exceptions though, so even in these instances, some women may still have to get their partner’s consent.

Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, commented to the ministry’s news, “It is weird to require an approval from a spouse when taking a pill […] is Japan still living in the middle ages?”

Financial barriers, difficulties with acquiring their partner’s consent, fears and lack of proper education about abortions put Japanese women in tough situations. According to The Guardian, in 2021, Japanese authorities arrested a 21-year-old woman after she left her baby’s body in a park in Japan. She later testified in court that she did this after she could not get an abortion because the father wouldn’t consent to the procedure. She did have her prison sentence reduced, but this is a part of a phenomenon that happens quite often in Japan, where women leave their babies in public places or sometimes even take more drastic measures. For example, The Washington Post reported that in 2018, there were 28 infanticides with seven of the children being killed the day they were born.

This has led to the creation of institutions like Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto, Japan, where women can anonymously leave their babies and allow them to be put up for adoption. The hospital also allows for deliveries in which women do not have to include their name on their child’s birth certificate, if they do not wish to.

Takeshi Hasuda, director of Jikei Hospital, explained to The Washington Post the stigmas around abortion in Japan and their impacts. She said, “People who are trying to get an abortion often feel ashamed, so they feel that they are not in a position to really demand for rights, whether it’s to lower the cost or other accessibility […] And since these people don’t really raise their voice, it’s difficult for such subjects to become real talked-about issues as in the U.S.”

The approval of mifepristone provides women in Japan with an easier way to have an abortion; however, the government’s requirement to have women get consent from their partner, presents women with a major challenge. This, paired with other financial and societal burdens, can cause women to take drastic measures. This is all a testament to the worldwide issue of women lacking bodily autonomy.

Shivani is a second-year microbiology major at the University of Florida. She enjoys sharing important updates about the local community and around the world with readers through her writing. In her free time, Shivani enjoys reading journals and magazines, drawing henna, binging shows on Netflix, and listening to music.