Abortion in Modern Japan

Is abortion legal in Japan? No, but also yes. Join us on a journey through history to learn about how modern abortion law developed in a legal system that didn’t treat fetuses as legal persons but did want to count them as future taxpayers.

Content note: This episode is about abortion. It contains discussions of miscarriages, the complications of improper administration of abortifacients, forced sterilization, sexually transmitted diseases, and sex work.

Featured image: Sexual Life Rules, a woodblock print by Yoshitsuna with the inner body of a courtesan shown as a brothel. Japan’s long history of legal sex work contributed to its general legal acceptance of sharing information about birth control in early modern history. (Image source)

A late 19th century woodblock print admonishes readers against abortion. (Image source)

Margaret Sanger and her son meet with Shizue Kato, a prominent women’s rights and birth control activist in Japan. (Image source)

Most Japanese laws on abortion did not engage with the same assumptions about fetal personhood that are common in legislation against abortion in America, but on a personal and cultural level, things are much more complex. Jizō statues commemorating unborn and stillborn children stand at many Japanese Buddhist temples, including these at Zōjō-ji. (Image source)