Abortion rules may expand

An organization of obstetricians and gynecologists has begun a move to make abortions available in cases in which the fetus has a fatal disease or defect.

A proposal drafted by the organization suggests the maternity protection law be revised to allow the abortions. It will be discussed by representatives of the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists during a meeting in late March.

If the draft is approved, the association will make it public to facilitate public discussion on the merits of revising the law, according to Kaoru Shinya, managing director of the association. The association’s proposal states that if a fetus has an incurable, fatal disease or defect and is less than 12 weeks old, abortion should be allowed unconditionally. It does not list specific diseases because what is an incurable or fatal disease now could change as medical science progresses.

Shinya said the association came up with the proposal after seriously considering which should be given priority — a woman’s right to make her own decision or the fetus’ right to life. The maternity protection law currently does not allow abortions because of fetus defects. But in reality, abortions of this type are widespread.

Within the association, there has been a strong opinion that doctors cannot cope with the situation any more by loosely interpreting the law. Since the proposal drafted by the association will basically legalize the present practice, organizations for the disabled are expected to oppose it.

The maternity protection law already sanctions abortions of fetuses less than 22 weeks old if the mother’s health is in danger due to economic or physical reasons or if pregnancy is caused under an irregular situation such as rape. The law was enacted last June by revising the eugenic protection law, which was originally enacted in 1948.