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Japan. Low-birth rates and the abortion pill: Kishida’s government’s controversial policies

Just like Italy - and probably at a higher rate than Italy - the Asian country is facing the problem of declining birth rates. "Kodomo mannaka", that is, a society that puts "children at the centre", is the slogan featured on the logo of the new "Child and Family Agency" created by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government. But at the same time, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has initiated the approval process for the marketing of the abortion pill ‘made in the UK’

(Foto: ANSA/SIR)

(Tokyo) Just like Italy – and probably at a higher rate than Italy – the Asian country is facing the problem of declining birth rates. “Kodomo mannaka”, that is, a society that puts “children at the centre”, is the slogan featured on the logo of the new “Child and Family Agency” created by the government headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Starting this April, the Agency has become the nerve centre for government policies aimed at increasing the number of births, which the Prime Minister defined “the most important task” of his administration.

The 799,728 births in 2022 were the lowest recorded since data started to be collected in 1899, according to provisional figures from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released last February.

However, it is estimated that the definitive figures to be released in June could be even lower, standing at approximately 770,000 – counting only resident Japanese citizens not including foreigners and Japanese expatriates, who were included in the provisional statistics. These figures, which Japan has recorded 10 years earlier than expected, pushed Prime Minister Kishida to declare that a “point of no return” might be on the horizon. “Unprecedented” measures are in the pipeline, but according to a poll conducted in early April by the influential Asahi Shimbun magazine, 61% of voters are skeptical about them.

Experts and cabinet and opposition party members agree that

the last chance to curb declining birth rates will be played out over the next decade, since the number of women of childbearing age is rapidly decreasing.

Consequently, Yurike Koike, the Governor of Tokyo – an area strongly affected by this problem – has decided to include in the proposals for the metropolitan area a set of subsidies for women who decide to protect their fertility by resorting to egg freezing to have a family in the future, in the hope of brighter prospects. Companies that support this policy among their employees will also be awarded financial support. It’s hard to determine the extent to which a provision of this kind will contribute to addressing the demographic problem: how many postponements will turn into outright renunciations? How many pregnancies will result from the re-implanted eggs, and, above all, how many will be successful? These are all open questions on which experts are also reflecting in the knowledge that they cannot be addressed solely by focusing on percentages and statistics because, as Pope Francis said, “”It is not acceptable that the decision about a life depends on an algorithm, what is needed is ethics and respect.”

owever, while the Minister for Children and Family Affairs Masanobu Ogura is parading the logo of the newly-created Child and Families Agency with the motto ‘Kodomo mannaka’,

at the same time, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare launched the marketing authorisation process for the UK-manufactured abortion pill.

Definitive approval is expected at the end of April, following the Ministry’s scrutiny of some 12,000 comments from the general public, which is more than 100 times the usual number, and which at a preliminary analysis seems to suggest that two-thirds support the marketing of the new abortion drug.

It would be a first for Japan, but, like David against Goliath,

a small group of Christians – Catholics and Protestants – have been protesting since March 27 with a hunger strike in front of the Ministry of Health, in a desperate attempt to discourage the government from that course of action.

Amidst utter disinterest from the press, Kazuo Sasaki, 73, an entrepreneur in Tokyo, initiated the protest. “Millions of babies have been killed by abortion in Japan so far,” he shouted, addressing the ministry officials whose building he rallies in front of every morning. “Demographic decline is a widely discussed issue, but what is there to talk about when millions have been killed for decades?”

According to official statistics released in January, a total of 126,174 pregnancies ended in abortion in 2021 alone, amounting to approximately 350 per day, obviously not including undeclared abortions.

Surgical abortion in Japan is currently regulated by the ‘Maternity Health Act”, which authorizes abortion under a term limit of 22 weeks for endangerment to the health of the pregnant woman, economic hardship or rape. In all cases, the mother’s and spouse’s consent is necessary. This requirement has been criticised as being detrimental to women’s self-determination.

A Protestant media outlet quoted Catholic activist Junya Kato – currently taking part in the protest – as saying that life is a gift from God. She referred in particular to the “economic reasons” that according to the law allegedly justify abortion: “If a life can be saved when there is money available, then we can work to save as many human lives as possible,” Kato said. She mentioned the experience of Kounotori no Yurikago, an association based at the Jikei Hospital in the city of Kumamoto where parents can anonymously leave their newborn babies if they are unable to take care of them. She then called on institutions to promote more initiatives of this kind and urged all Christian believers to oppose the abortion pill by fulfilling their mission to be the “salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

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