In Japan, “spousal consent” is required by law for a woman to have an abortion. For this year’s International Safe Abortion Day, our group – Action for Safe Abortion in Japan (ASAJ) – has been supporting a petition campaign calling for the abolition of the spousal consent requirement. The petition – “We demand that JAPAN abolish the male permission requirement for abortion care!” – was initiated by Kazane Kajiya, pro-choice and contraception access activist. It says: “We demand that Japan abolish the law that deprives women of bodily autonomy and forces them to continue unwanted pregnancies and give birth against their will. Japan is one of only 11 countries in the world where pregnant women need to seek ‘permission’ from their husband for abortion, which means Japanese women cannot make their own decision to terminate a pregnancy.” On 14 September, we submitted 40,000 signatures and two letters of request to the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, and also issued two statements on the subject of women being forced to give birth against their wishes due to the lack of access to abortion.
On 27 September, we held a press conference (also at YouTube) at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo, entitled: “Let Women Decide: Pro-Choice Activists Call on Japan to Allow Women to Make Independent Decisions on Abortion”. This was to let the world know about the spousal consent requirement for abortion (photo). Speakers included Kazane Kajiya, who initiated the petition campaign, and Riza Haslam, WEI GK (Women Empowered Institute).
On 28 September, we held a 2½ hour commemorative online talk event called “Let’s Talk About Abortion,” led by Kumi Tsukahara, with a range of speakers. Most of it was in Japanese. It was watched live on the day by some 300 people. In addition to introducing the campaign to eliminate the spousal consent requirement, in the first part of the event, we outlined the history and current safe abortion activism around the world, introduced some women’s own experiences which we had gathered through an online survey prior to the event, introduced some films and books which deal with abortion, shared the voices of people who signed petition and some statements calling for change in a society that is punitive towards women. Messages of support were read out from Korea. Three guest speakers gave presentations on trends in the use of abortion pills today: Marge Berer, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, UK; Prof Lesley Hoggart, Open University and Abortion Talk, UK; and Dr Daniel Grossman, University of California San Francisco, USA.
The second part of the event was about the petition, which by then had been signed by 43,000 people. Chiaki then spoke how our society perceives abortion. For example, she described some of the language used by the media to describe women who were accused of abandoning newborn babies – women who gave birth on their own after failing to get an abortion, which was denied to them. The negative images of abortion reproduced by the media only make it harder for women who need an abortion. Kumi spoke about reproductive health and rights in the 21st century. She pointed out that women in Japan are still forced to have a D&C as an abortion method in our hospitals, even though the World Health Organization recommends medical abortion pills and MVA, and has not recommended D&C for many years.
There was also a Q&A in English.
The event was well attended and listeners were enthusiastic. We were very pleased that the whole webinar was broadcast nationally the next day on the Japan Broadcasting Cooperation (NHK) news, which is equivalent to the BBC in Japan. NHK also published an article on their website about the webinar. This was all great publicity and it will definitely help us draw more attention to the issues, successfully promoting the importance of safe abortion to the public. The presentations and Q & A in English can be watched at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA1Yak1PB9Q
We will put the second part of the webinar in our archive so that it will be available to the public.
Report by members of Action for Safe Abortion in Japan: Kumi Tsukahara, Kazane Kajiya and Junko Ozawa