What is the response in Japan and other countries to abortion in NIPT (new-type prenatal diagnosis)?

What is the response in Japan and other countries to abortion in NIPT (new-type prenatal diagnosis)?

Many people consider abortion as a result of the newborn birth diagnosis (NIPT), which can be performed in the early stages of pregnancy.
Abortion is not uncommon in Japan, but there are many countries around the world that have different ideas and responses to abortion.
This article introduces Japanese and other countries' attitudes and responses to abortion.

Why some people choose abortion with NIPT

When a NIPT test result is positive, it means that your baby may have a chromosomal abnormality. Many people are perplexed when they find out that their child has a disease.

Especially in Japan, where the environment for raising children with chromosomal abnormalities is not sufficiently conducive, some people may choose to have an abortion depending on the results of NIPT. Abortion is the abortion of a baby before a specified period of time. In fact, Japan is known as an "abortion powerhouse," and the number of people having abortions for various reasons is increasing.

Among those who undergo NIPT, it is apparent that they are more concerned than others about the health of their babies, and not simply because they are giving birth at an older age. Choosing to have an abortion when the baby you have been waiting for is found to have a possible disability is a very emotionally taxing decision.

If you undergo NIPT, deciding whether or not to have an abortion if the test result is positive can be a big shock; you will need to think about the definition of life with yourself and your partner beforehand when undergoing the NIPT test.

 Status of Abortion in Japan

The Japanese Penal Code has an "abortion crime" (datai zai), which prohibits pregnant women and their doctors from performing abortions. On the other hand, the Maternal Protection Law allows abortion without illegality if conditions are met.

Originally, the predecessor to the Maternal Protection Law was the Eugenic Protection Law, which had a history of trying to prevent the birth of defective offspring in Japan. Today, the law has been revised to the Maternal Protection Law to protect the life and health of pregnant women.

Abortion under the Maternal Protection Act is subject to the following conditions

  • When pregnancy and childbirth affect the health of pregnant women
  • Pregnancy or childbirth may cause financial problems
  • Pregnancy resulting from rape

(※Actual abortion also requires the consent of the partner)

A large percentage of people have abortions because of a positive NIPT result, and some say that the test, which is supposed to be a way to learn about the health of the baby in the belly, is ultimately a "selection of life.

At present, there is no section in the Maternal Protection Law regarding aborted fetuses. Therefore, related organizations, such as the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, take a negative position toward abortion of fetuses with chromosomal abnormalities.

Not all countries allow abortion.

In Japan, abortion is an option with the consent of the father and mother of the fetus, but in some countries around the world, abortion is illegal.

Why Abortion is Prohibited

Religious background is a major factor in why abortion is banned in several countries around the world in the first place.

It may seem strange to Japanese people that they cannot choose abortion because of their religious deity or its teachings. In Japan, although Buddhist culture is deeply rooted in weddings, funerals, and annual events, the percentage of atheists is high.

For example, Christian Catholics have strict views on abortion. This is because the fetus is considered a gift of God. Therefore, in some countries, abortion is not allowed at all, even if the mother's life may be threatened by the pregnancy. In the following sections, we will discuss the history and views of abortion in some countries.

History and Status of Abortion in the United States

Surprisingly, abortion was illegal in the U.S. until the 1970s, when the feminist movement for women's rights gained momentum in the U.S. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be allowed.

Pregnancy and childbirth place a heavy physical and financial burden on women. In the United States, as in Japan, abortion is recognized as a "woman's right" in cases of undue health or financial burden, or in cases of rape or other unwanted pregnancy.

On the other hand, there are many people of faith in the United States who hold negative opinions about abortion. As a result, it is often an issue in state and federal elections.

 History and Current Status of Abortion in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, abortion came to be recognized as a form of social welfare policy to prevent the increase in family size and poverty. In England, as in the U.S., abortion came to be considered a woman's right with the feminism of the 1970s.

In particular, in the UK, NIPT and subsequent definitive testing is free of charge, as is the rest of the practice. In addition, in the United Kingdom, public subsidies are available for people with disabilities. In recent years, NIPT and various other tests have been conducted to avoid the birth of fetuses with chromosomal abnormalities.

Abortion is also allowed under British law, but the difference between the United Kingdom and Japan is that there are provisions concerning the fetus. Specifically, the law permits abortion in cases of serious physical or mental abnormality of the fetus. For this reason, abortion due to fetal abnormality is permitted only during the entire period of pregnancy.  

On the other hand, some people have come to view abortion after NIPT has revealed a fetal disability as discrimination against people with disabilities. Ultimately, it is the baby's parents who decide whether or not to undergo NIPT and whether or not to give birth to and raise a child with disabilities.

 History and Current Status of Abortion in Germany

During World War II, Germany's eugenics-based philosophy of Hitler's regime led to policies that discriminated against the physically challenged. Eugenics is the idea of preserving superior genes and eliminating those that are not.

In Germany during the war, measures such as forced sterilization and isolation as well as abortion were used. For this reason, Germany has included provisions regarding the unborn child in its abortion laws since that time.

Germany has a complicated history in terms of bioethics, but in 1994, the fetal clause in abortion was eliminated from the law. The elimination of the fetal clause in Germany means that there is consideration for discrimination against the physically challenged. This is a significant milestone in Germany, which has long been under the influence of eugenics ideology.

In Japan, some people argue for the necessity of a provision regarding the fetus in the Maternal Protection Law as a guide to choosing abortion for a baby. However, the law also contains provisions that should be seen as an exclusion of the physically challenged, and this could lead to a breeding ground for discriminatory attitudes.

Bioethics are likely to be questioned in the latest medical technology.

Practices using the latest medical technologies, such as NIPT, are often confronted with ethical issues of life. It is up to the pregnant woman and her partner to decide what to do after undergoing NIPT. It will be helpful to know what is going on in Japan and other countries around the world in order to formulate ideas and opinions.