Tokyo: In Japan, a subcommittee of the health ministry’s Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council on Friday approved an abortion pill developed by Britain’s Linepharma International Ltd, Mefeego pill pack.
It would provide an alternative to a surgical procedure amid calls for progress in women’s reproductive rights and gender equality. In Japan, abortions have been usually performed with metal instruments. As this procedure is invasive, medical experts and others are calling for introduction of abortion pills in Japan.
The ministry announced the move after a secondary panel reviewed 12,000 public comments collected online. Final approval from the health minister is expected to follow, reported Japan Times.
In January, an expert panel under the subcommittee approved the drug, but the ministry decided to have the subcommittee discuss the matter after hearing public comments.
For around 30 years, abortion pills have been used overseas, with over 80 nations having them available. Japan has been criticized for lagging behind other nations. France was the first to approve such a pill in 1988, Japan Times reported.
Currently, surgical procedures, allowed at the early stages of pregnancy, are the only options available for abortion in Japan, despite the World Health Organization has endorsed the pill as one of the safest methods.
The approval of the pill in Japan would mark progress for women’s reproductive rights, but debates over pricing and consent have cast a shadow over the decision, reported Japan Times.
Mefeego will not be covered by Japan’s national health insurance, and with women being required to take the drugs under medical supervision, costs may be greater than if one were to get a surgical abortion, even if the average wholesale price of abortion pills globally is estimated to be around Yen 780 to Yen 1,400, while surgical procedures for abortion in Japan cost Yen 100,000 to Yen 200,000, reported Japan Times.
Another factor is Japan’s Maternal Health Act, which requires spousal consent for an abortion — a policy that sometimes prevents access. The health ministry says the law will be applicable to abortion pills.
While a partner’s consent is not legally needed for unmarried women, many doctors require a man’s consent due to a lack of understanding and fear of legal consequences, Japan Times reported.
The law includes no provision for unmarried mothers. However, the health ministry has said a partner’s consent is not required for unmarried women or those impregnated through rape.
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