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Is abortion legal in Japan?

Japan's healthcare system

Is abortion legal in Japan?

Japanese law permits abortion if the pregnancy is less than 22 weeks. In Japan, abortion is prohibited by the crime of abortion (Penal Code, Articles 212-216), which has been in force since the Meiji Era (1907), though the Maternal Protection Law (1948) allows abortions if certain conditions are met. The number of abortions in Japan in 2020 was 145,340.

Abortions are allowed under certain conditions in Japan

The conditions under which an abortion is allowed are as follows:

(1) When the mother’s health is impaired due to physical or financial reasons.

(2) When the pregnancy is the result of rape or threat.

In the case of (1), the consent of the male partner is required in principle. In addition, the period during which an abortion can be performed is less than 22 weeks of pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman aborts by using drugs or by any other means, she shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to one year.

Conditions for Abortion in Japan

Abortion must be performed in compliance with the Maternal Protection Law. The conditions for compliance with the Maternal Protection Law are as follows:

Maternal Protection Act Chapter III Maternal Protection:

Article 14

“Designated physicians” may perform an abortion on a woman who falls under any of the following with the consent of the woman and her male partner.

(i ) Those whose health is likely to be seriously impaired by the continuation of pregnancy or delivery for physical or financial reasons

(ii) Those who have become pregnant as a result of an assault or threat or as a result of fornication while incapable of resisting or refusing

In the case of (i), if the male partner is unknown or unable to manifest his will, or if the male partner ceases to exist after the pregnancy, the will of the woman alone shall be sufficient.

Although the Maternal Protection Law states that a doctor “may obtain the consent of the male partner” to perform an abortion, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has stated in notices that the consent of the male partner is not required if the woman is not married or if her marriage is broken, such as if she is the victim of domestic violence inflicted by her husband and his consent is difficult to obtain.

When a woman undergoes an abortion due to an unexpected pregnancy, the consent of the male partner is not legally required if the woman is not married, but it has been pointed out that there are cases in which the doctor asks for the consent of the male partner out of fear of being sued, and by the time the male partner’s consent is confirmed, it is too late to perform the abortion. The Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (JOGGCA) has stated that unnecessary consent should not be sought and that it will hold workshops on the proper interpretation of the law in instances in which consent is not required.

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