Whether "elective abortion" should be legally regulated


Should "elective abortion" be legally regulated? Although abortion is not strictly illegal in Japan, it is effectively treated as a gray area.
This article will consider "elective abortion" in light of the situation in Japan and overseas.

Conditions under which "elective abortion" can be performed in Japan

The conditions under which an elective abortion can be performed in Japan are defined by the Maternal Protection Law, which states in Article 2 of Chapter I: "An abortion is the artificial removal of a fetus and its accessories from the mother when the fetus cannot continue its life outside the mother's body.

The Maternal Protection Law also defines the conditions under which an abortion can be performed as follows

①Continuation of pregnancy or delivery may seriously jeopardize the health of the mother for physical or financial reasons.

②Pregnancy resulting from adultery committed by assault or threat or while incapable of resistance or refusal.

In addition to these, there are requirements for physician certification, husband's consent (not required for singles), and within 22 weeks of conception, but they are virtually nonfunctional except for the gestational period.

In Japan, the "crime of abortion" was enacted in 1907, and although it has remained in force to the present day, it is almost never applied due to the aforementioned Maternal Protection Law.

The Debate on Selective Abortion in Japan

I mentioned at the outset that prenatal testing has changed the issues surrounding abortion.

The advent of prenatal testing made it possible to meet the requirement of the Maternal Protection Law that if the fetus had a disease, it would be "likely to seriously endanger the health of the mother for physical or economic reasons.

This made the crime of abortion a virtually nonfunctional law.

And in addition to this, the fact that the Maternal Protection Law has provisions regarding the condition of the pregnant woman but no language regarding the fetus is also problematic.

To add to this, the discussion in Japan to add a provision regarding the condition of the fetus took place during the time of the Eugenic Protection Law, the predecessor of the Maternal Protection Law.

At that time, the phrase "a fetus is recognized as having a significant risk of having a disease or defect that causes severe mental or physical disability" was almost added to the Eugenic Protection Law, but after various discussions that took place in the political and private sectors, the discussion on the fetus has remained unfilled to this day.

Thus, while abortion is not strictly illegal in Japan, it is in fact in a gray area, and awareness of the pros and cons of abortion is still low, in part because the crime of abortion has become a skeleton.

Discussions and regulations surrounding "abortion" abroad

To gain a different perspective here, let us look at an example of the debate and regulation on the issue of "abortion" in other countries.

First, please take a look at the following images.

Level of regulation of abortion in countries around the world

authority:The World’s Abortion Laws

This map color-codes the level of regulation on abortion in countries around the world, with each color indicating

  • Reddish brown...totally prohibited
  • Red...abortion is possible if the woman's life is in danger
  • Yellow...abortion is possible if the mother's health is compromised
  • Green...Abortion is possible based on social and economic circumstances (Japan is also in this category)
  • Blue...abortion available upon request (varies by region)

These maps suggest that strict abortion laws and regulations are often found in economically developing countries.

However, the issues surrounding abortion in the world are changing by the minute, so the following sections introduce some of the debates that are taking place in various countries.

Abortion Issues in the United States

In the United States, the anti-abortion movement has been in place for more than 50 years, but a change in the political climate led to the enactment of anti-abortion laws in a number of states in 2019.

One of these states, Alabama, has enacted one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the United States, making abortion illegal except when there is a serious risk to the mother.

This is a case often criticized because it applies even when the mother becomes pregnant in a criminal act such as rape.

Thus, in the U.S. today, a number of religious and political agendas have combined to create a growing movement on abortion.

Abortion in Europe

In Europe, legal restrictions on abortion are not very strict.

Some countries, such as Northern Ireland and Poland, still have stricter conditions, but still, overall, almost no country bans abortion altogether.

The only exception is Malta, where the practice of abortion is forbidden and the doctor who performs the abortion is sentenced to 18 to 4 months in prison.

The debate at the cultural level is also often controversial, and in 2018 the Pope made headlines when he said that abortion is like hiring a hit man.

Abortion Issues in Iran

For a long time, abortion was prohibited in Iran except in cases where the mother's life was in danger, but in 2005, a "Therapeutic Abortion Law" was enacted to allow abortion in light of the health circumstances of the fetus and mother.

About 90% of Iran's people were Shiite adherents, and their bioethics were also based on Islamic law.

Although Islamic law does not strictly prohibit abortion, it has been interpreted that "abortion is forbidden" because the Quran states two points: the sanctity of life and that parents should not kill their children.

However, the background is that the above law was enacted based on medical grounds and the interpretation of Islamic law that the mother's suffering should be avoided, in response to the serious violation of women's health caused by non-compatible abortion procedures.

What We Should Consider Before Discussing "Abortion" Legislation

One opinion on abortion when the child has a disease is that of American legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, who argues that abortion due to a disability should be allowed.

To summarize his opinion, he says, "Abortion should be encouraged because if an unborn baby is found to have a severe disability, it is destined to be a setback in the life of both the mother and the child. Moreover, this does not prejudice the rights of those who have already been born with a disability.

Some critics have responded by saying that even if a baby is born with a disability, it does not mean that the life of the individual or his family will be set back, and that Duokin has no right to claim that regulating abortion for disabled children is not an insult to those already born with disabilities.

Both of these opinions are valid, but it is not difficult to imagine that the mothers would need more extensive social support in Japan because of the emotional and financial burden they would face regardless of the choice they make.


Based on the information presented so far, one thing that can be said about the issues surrounding abortion in Japan is that the Maternal Protection Law should include a provision regarding the fetus.

Of course, it is not the case that "abortion is possible in all cases where a specific disease is detected." Rather, I would like to conclude this article by arguing that there should be a great deal of discussion regarding the line between abortion and disease, and that the social support system should also be enhanced.

I hope that this article will give you some food for thought.