Japanese women who have suffered domestic abuse from their husbands are no longer required to consent to an abortion.
This month, new guidelines were published that state that if consent is not possible, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of the country may ignore consent from the spouse. This is usually required by Japan’s Maternal Health Act.
Previously, doctors would only perform abortions if the father of the baby was either unknown or had disappeared upon learning of the pregnancy.
Even though this is stipulated in the Maternal Health Act, Japanese doctors have been reluctant to perform abortions for fear of later facing repercussions from the father.In October 2020, one woman from western Japan told Nikkei Asia she had been refused an abortion after she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance.
As per her account, doctors told her: ‘You know him, so you should be able to get him to sign off.’‘We want to perform the abortions, but we can’t rule out the possibility that we will be sued by the male party,’ Isamu Ishiwata, the chair of the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologist said.
The news was first reported by Mainichi Shimbun, a Japenese newspaper. Following calls from civil rights groups, Japan’s Medical Association and the Obstetrics and Gynecology Association had been in talks about how best to bring change.
A person familiar with the matter told the publication that under the revised guidelines ‘if the marriage relationship is virtually broken, such as when a pregnant woman is suffering from domestic violence, and it is difficult to obtain the consent of her spouse regarding abortion, only her consent is required’.
It said Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had also approved the change.Whether or not the relationship has broken down will be determined by a doctor upon the woman’s request. Doctors should check with a relative or third-party who has knowledge of their relationship, the guidelines said.The update has been welcomed by advocacy groups who had been campaigning for change, but it is unclear how it will be put into practice.A spokesperson from Saitama Victim Consultation Center, a support group for victims of domestic violence, told VICE the government needs to provide further guidelines.
‘The government hasn’t sent us any guidelines about how to better implement these revisions. Do victims need to speak to the police to be considered victims of domestic violence? Or can it merely be victims who came to us for help? Nothing is made clear,’ they said.