On Aug. 16, the Health and Welfare Ministry announced that it had finally approved the low-dosage birth control pill, which will likely become available through prescription in the fall. Oral contraceptives for women have been available in the West for close to 40 years, but in Japan they’ve always been viewed with a distrustful eye by the authorities.

The reasons for keeping the Pill out were never satisfactorily explained by the government, but the two that became uppermost in people’s minds were 1) the possible dangers of known and unknown side effects, and 2) the fear that all women would somehow become sex fiends. A third, much less discussed reason was pressure from obstetricians who drew a good part of their income from legal abortions.

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