Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is in hot water over remarks he reportedly made last week insinuating that women who grow old without having children deserve no state aid.

During a panel discussion Thursday in Kagoshima, Mori reportedly said, “The argument that tax money should be used to help take care of women who don’t even bear one child is strange.”

The panel was discussing issues relating to Japan’s declining birth rate.

Another Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, Seiichi Ota, also made offensive remarks at the gathering.

Ota said men who participate in gang rapes are closer to normal than those who put off marriage, because “they have virility.” Faced with a wave of criticism, Ota apologized the following day.

On Tuesday a group of Diet members from the Social Democratic Party submitted a letter of protest to Mori’s office, slamming his remarks as discriminatory.

According to the protest letter, Mori reportedly said that “in the true sense of welfare, the state shows appreciation to women who bore many children” and that “it is really strange (for people to say) that women who enjoy a liberated life, not having any children, and later grow old should get help through taxpayer money.”

SDP lawmaker Keiko Yamauchi said the remarks are tantamount to saying that women who do not or cannot have children are of no use to society.

Mori later told reporters that his audience was comprised of kindergarten operators and mothers with kindergartners and that it is “unthinkable” that he would say anything derogatory toward women.

“I just explained that some in the (LDP’s) panel studying the falling birthrate have such a view,” he said.

When asked about the comments by reporters Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he had no knowledge of the contents of the remarks.

“I don’t know what he said,” Koizumi said, “but since there is freedom of speech, (both sides) should be free to discuss such matters.”

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