ByÂ Anuva Kulkarni:
The Japanese are an ancient civilization and it may sound surprising, but abortion was legal in Japan before and during the Edo Period (1603 — 1868). Instances of induced abortion have been documented in as early as the 12th century. In as much as we consider the legality of abortion to be an ethical debate, the Japanese Government leaders condemned it as “an act of murder” because they believed it led to a reduction in tax-payers! Slowly, therefore, abortion began to become illegal and in 1869 it was banned altogether nationwide. Scholar Tiana Norgren, author of “Abortion before Birth Control” believes that the abortion policy was influenced by the thought that a large population would yield more military and political influence. Japan was under the rule of an emperor in 1868, and the emperor was instrumental in issuing orders for the ban. Punishments for abortion included incarceration of the woman for up to a year at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1931, the Alliance for Reform of the Anti-Abortion Law (Datai HÅ Kaisei Kiseikai) argued that “it is a woman’s right not to bear a child she does not want, and abortion is an exercise of this right“. (Source: Tiana Norgren) The organization believed that abortion should be made legal in certain extenuating circumstances and if it endangered the woman’s health. In 1934, the Fifth All-Japan Women’s Suffrage Congress called for the legalization of abortion and contraception. (Source: Wikipedia)
But rather unexpectedly, a population crisis was created after World War II when millions of people were declared to be at the risk of starvation. The population too, was growing rapidly and times were hard. In 1948, Japan legalized abortion under special circumstances.
Currently, abortion is widely accepted in Japan. I personally agree with the argument that it is a woman’s choice what she wants to put her body through, and other countries that prohibit abortion even in critical health conditions should take a leaf out of Japan’s book. In countries where abortion is illegal, women’s lives are endangered in circumstances where there may not be another way of saving mother. As we see from the case of Savita Halappanavar’s death after she was allegedly denied an abortion in Ireland, referring to abortion as “murder” in every case could lead to loss of two lives, not just one. Also, the number of sexual assaults and rapes is on the rise in our own country. Do these women, who have been victims of a heinous crime in the first place, not get to choose to abort their pregnancy, in case the rape has resulted in one?
The journey from pregnancy to childbirth is difficult and the mother, out of love for her unborn child, is ready to bear all the changes to her own self that the pregnancy brings. While we consider the life of the foetus, we cannot overlook the sacrifice of the mother. Her health and well-being must be accorded due importance. Given the increasing incidences of teen pregnancies, society should keep in mind that teenagers may be too young and not yet ready to be responsible parents. Denial of abortion many a time causes these young mothers to turn to adoption agencies, and we can imagine the psychological impact on a child’s mind when it learns that it was adopted, perhaps because it was not wanted. The absence of a stable home and caring parents is something that ideally, a child should not have to face.
Thus, it is essential to think of the future too, and not just the “act” of abortion. One event could have ripples throughout the lives of many people, and therefore, a decision should not be forced upon a sane, thinking woman – she should be allowed to make up her own mind rationally and after weighing all the possibilities. And it isn’t as if aborting a foetus is an act performed by unfeeling parents or doctors. Staying as traditional as they always were, the Japanese perform Mizuko kuyÅ or “foetus memorial service“, a ceremony for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, as a desire to comfort the soul of the dead foetus, the Mizuko, or the “water child”.