Women’s health activists have urged the Japanese government to amend a law that requires married women to seek consent from their husbands before they can abort.
Japan is one of 11 countries that require third party consent for abortions, despite calls to end the practice by the World Health Organization and other groups.
Although the 1948 law makes exceptions in certain cases, including rape or when the health of the mother is in danger, the restrictions amount to a “sexual assault” against women by the Japanese state, according to Kazane. Kajiya, an activist for the right to abortion and access to contraception.
Speaking on the eve of International Safe Abortion Day, Kajiya said the Maternal Health Law was designed to ensure that women continue to play their traditional roles as mothers.
“Women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies, and denying them this right amounts to sexual abuse by the nation,” she told reporters on Monday.
“Japan does not protect women, but tries to ‘protect’ their bodies as a public good and a future incubator. We are treated like mothers and expectant mothers. We want the human right to access contraception and abortion without anyone’s approval. But Japan treats our bodies as its national property.
Women who abort without consent – by forging their husbands’ signatures or buying illegal abortion pills online – face up to a year in prison.
“When it comes to women making decisions about their own bodies, men’s opinions outweigh women’s happiness, health and even their lives,” said Kajiya, who started a petition demanding a change in the law.
Activists say the requirement underscores Japan’s outdated attitude to women’s reproductive health. The morning-after pill is only available with a doctor’s prescription, and the Department of Health has only said it will “consider” loosening regulations to allow the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception. as is the case in dozens of other countries.
The Japanese Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has called for the Maternal Health Law to be amended to allow women to request an abortion without the consent of a third party during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. WHO and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women have recommended that Japan abolish this requirement.
Kajiya said that although the law mainly applied to married women, it had been used to force some into a pregnancy regardless of their marital status, including victims of sexual abuse and assault.
Abortions are legal in Japan, with around 160,000 reported in the year through March 2019, including 13,588 involving women under the age of 20, according to the health ministry.
However, abortion pills are illegal. Pressure is mounting on Japanese health authorities to approve the oral drug, which is recommended by the WHO, but its use may also require third party consent, Kajiya said.
“Why do women who are able to make decisions and take responsibility for their lives need men’s permission to take an extremely safe drug? Kajiya said. “We are treated like minors because we are not allowed to make decisions about our own bodies. This means that our body will never really be ours.