Attempt to amend abortion law in JAPAN 1968

Anthony Zimmerman
July 13, 1968
Reproduced with Permission

By Augustine Sugano, Secretary General of Kisei Domei, Movement to reverse the Eugenic Protection Law. With the help of Fr. Zimmerman, Divine Word Missionaries, Shibuya-ku, Hiroo 2-5-33, Tokyo, 1968.

N.B. This attempt was followed by another for which Seicho No Ie collected seven million signatures asking the Government to curb abortions. Both attempts failed when politicians caved in to the media, but the movement then established Life Day on July 13, and lives on today as the Seimei Soncho, Reverence for Life Association with headquarters in Tokyo. The group is active in promoting reverence for life through its monthly magazine and active pro-life promotion throughout Japan.


Leading members of the Japanese Diet gathered recently in the Palace of Mr. Shigemune, Speaker of the House of Councillors, to accept an appeal against legal abortion. Dr. Taiei Miura, president of the anti-abortion movement, presented the petition which had been signed by 336,255 citizens. Speaker Shigemune responded that this large number of signatures is an indication of strong public feeling, and it cannot be ignored.

Most of the signatures had been gathered by Catholics during two campaigns the last of which ended two weeks before the petition was filed on June 2nd. Priests, sisters, and seminarians had joined lay people in collecting signatures not only at Catholic Institutions, but also at railway stations and street corners. The heartening response to the effort has encouraged Japan's Catholics to pursue the drive with even more energy in future. A non-Catholic group of atom-bombed Hiroshima had gathered 25,162 signatures on its own initiative. Still to be launched is a drive by the Seicho-no-Ie religious group, which is cooperating with the Catholic group. They may be able to gather an even larger number of Signatures. Citizens, in many cases, are eager to sign a petition to remove the stain from Japan's reputation as an "Abortion Paradise". The law which practically allows abortion on demand has become a Frankenstein which demands two to three million abortions per year.

Sponsoring the drive is a legal corporation entitled: "Movement to Overturn the Eugenic Protection Law." It is this law which permits licensed physicians to perform abortions on practically anyone who asks. The corporation was established two years ago as a joint anti-abortion venture of Catholics and of adherents of the Seicho-no-Ie religion. Its president is Dr. Taiei Miura, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Keio University, and President of the Catholic Physicians' Guild. The Vice President is Senator Takeo Tamaki, member of Seicho-no-Ie, who was elected to the House of Councillors in June, 1968. Father Andrew Matsumura, Secretary of the Social Welfare Section under the Conference of Bishops is director of Catholic liaison.

On June 2nd, at 2:oo P.M., Speaker Shigemune arranged for the meeting between the petitioners and the Diet Members. Catholics flanking Dr. Miura as he presented the petition were Professor S. Inoue of Nanzan University, Nagoya, Father John Sasaki, Paul Takashimaya, John Peridon, Anthony Zimmerman, SVD - also Mr.Y. Sugano the secretary general of the drive. Members of the Seicho-no-Ie present were Tamaki, Ohazama, and Murakami. The following Diet members flanked Speaker Shigemune as he received the petition: from the House of Representatives, Mr. Shirahama, Mr. Fujimoto, Mr.Hashimoto and Mr. Ozawa. From the House of Councillors: Mr.Kajima, Mrs.Yamashita, Mr.Tamaki Kazuo.

Dr. Miura explained why the members of the movement to curb legal abortion, and. the signators, feel it is important to amend the existing liberal abortion law. The law was passed in 1948, when, Japan was under American occupation, "and was amended to its present form in 1949 and 1952. It legalizes abortion for economic and health reasons. The same doctor who ascertains the economic or health indications can perform the operation. At least 2,000,000 or 2,500,000 abortions are performed per year now. This is the greatest mass murder under public recognition in history. This wholesale and routine disregard for human life is the occasion of a tragic degeneration of morality in the nation and of juvenile delinquency. And there are serious national problems arising from the practice such as the problem of labor shortage and the aging of the population. In general there is less respect for life in the nation. "We urgently petition that this law be changed now. When it was passed in 1948, our people were suffering from poverty and hunger, but there is no such excuse remaining today. For the love of our land, for its national destiny, we ask and petition that this law be amended in order to stop our march to tragic ruin on which we are now moving."

When he had finished , the boxes with the signatures were popped open and placed before Speaker Shigemune. He commented upon the large number of signatures, the great efforts which must have gone into the task of gathering them, and earnest desire of the people which is thus signified. He continued: "I am proud to stand before you as one who is also deeply concerned with this problem. And I am proud to see with us Mr. Kajima, who is also very earnest about the problem. Also Mrs. Yamashita, one of the great champions in the Diet of human and social problems. And we have with us Members of the House ofÊ Representatives. We cannot fail to respond to the wishes of the citizens who have signed this petition. I assure you that I will do my utmost to pursue this to a happy conclusion. Our goal cannot be other than what corresponds to our love of the land of its people."

Mr. Kajima then spoke for Members of the House of Counselors: "I have long been concerned about the future demographic structure of the Japanese population, and about the degeneration of our national morality, especially during the years since I have been a member of the Social and Labor Committee of the National Diet (he is Vice Chairman). I have been much encouraged by the positive manner in which Mr. Shigemune and Mr. K. Tamaki have tackled this problem, namely amendment of the Eugenic Protection Law. But to achieve our goal, we must have the united efforts of the Upper and Lower Houses. I will do my best in the House of Counselors, and ask Members of the House of the Representatives for their cooperation as well. And I want to hear the opinion of the BOSEI HOGOI KYOKAI (The Medical Association for Maternal Protection which favors abortion). In fact we have already had a special meeting in which the Movement to Repeal the EPL were ranged against the

Association which opposes its repeal. I am convinced that we must proceed very carefully. In the near future I shall try to organize a special research committee among members of the House of Counselors who are sympathetic to our cause. It is my hope that we can get this petition into the right channels so that the Government can begin its consideration of the problem."

Mr. Fujimoto of the House of Representatives responded. He said that he had explained the situation to his colleagues as follows: a first meeting on the problem was held in October, 1968, to which experts were invited to give testimony. Among them were Members of the Social and Labor Committee of the Government Liberal Democratic Party. We came to the realization that the amendment of this law must be propelled by the strong support of the general opinion of the people. It was decided that the opinion of the Ministry of Welfare must be ascertained, and that a study must be made of the actual manner in which abortion is working out in this country. Real and objective research is necessary for this purpose. We have succeeded in obtaining an allocation of 4,880,000 yen in the 1969 budget for this, Permit me to express gratitude for this large number of signatures, because it will reflect the strong public opinion on the question. Three weeks ago we had a second meeting, at which it was decided that about 10 permanent members of the Social and Labor Committee, with Mr.K.Saito as chairman, should organize the Diet Members supporting this amendment."

(At this juncture, Mr. Shigemune decided that it would be well if the Minister of Welfare, Mr. Noboru Saito, could come to see the mass of signatures. He ordered his secretary to try to locate him and asked those present to wait until he could come.)

Then K. Tamaki explained how the signatures would be used. They would be classified according to the election districts, so that 240-250 Diet Members of both Houses of the districts concerned can be influenced to support the amendment. These represent more groups than half of the Diet Members of the Liberal Democratic Government Party. Mr. Tamaki also thanked Professor Inoue for briefing the Diet Members, and asked that in future he continue his help, especially in regard to the scientific and legal aspects of the problem.

Representative Ozawa said that the time has come for the Government to arrive at an attitude of clear decision. It should request that the executive office of the Welfare Ministry study the problem under the leadership of the Welfare Minister himself. At the same time, the executive office of the Social and Labor Committee of the Government Party must come to a clear decision and adopt a course of action.

Mrs. Yamashita said that women must be requested to raise their voices in opposition to abortion. She was disappointed that the gathering was dominated by the men. She had seen a documentary movie on abortion, which effectively and movingly illustrates what a tragedy such an operation is for the woman and her child. Social education is much needed in this field. When a woman aborts her child, even though it is a small and soft mass as yet, she does not forget it for at least a year.

Mr. Inoue answered that women hate to see such movies, and avoid even talking about the problem, because most of them are personally involved. According to research made in Aichi Prefecture, 80 % of those women who had ever born a child, had experienced at least one abortion. It is a psychological problem for them to view abortion impersonally. He also said that 17 % of the babies now born in Japan are abnormal; this is an extremely grave problem, and a study of whether this is related to abortion deserves attention.

Mrs. Yamashita said that she knows a mother, 37 years old, who has had 11 abortions. She cannot go travelling on a train anymore, even for short distances, because of pain in the pelvic area. She said that she would be ready at any time to testify about the bad effects of abortion on physical health. Mrs.Yamashita added that women who have had 5 abortions inevitably experience bad effects on health, even though Japan is advanced in the medical sciences. Pregnancies tend to follow almost immediately after abortion, so repetitions of the operation are frequent.

Dr. Miura said that objective research on the effects of abortion on health would not be easy. In former times Japan had the general medical practitioner system, in which one doctor attended to the health problems of the whole family. But today all the doctors work only in specialized fields. If abortion is performed, and the operation is a success with no immediate complications, the operating doctor has finished his work with that patient. He never learns from her whether other complications or side effects developed, because she goes to another specialist for that. It would be best, to return to the older home doctor system, in order to combat the evil of abortion more effectively, so that doctors would have to think about side effects of abortion.

Senator Kajima said that it is necessary to have education for chastity in the country. We must realize that many doctors are very sincere and good, and are performing abortions only reluctantly, because clients demand them. Such doctors have serious misgivings about the present wide interpretation given to the actual contents of the law. We can influence them further by pointing out the evil effects of the operations, rather than by attacking the practice itself.

Representative Shirahama said that he has had the unpleasant experience of learning how far Americans go in favoring birth control, and that they have very great influence on Japan. The Director of the Population Service Office of Aid for International Development (AID) even told him that Japan had achieved "great success" in its birth control program, through the abortions. Mr. Shirahama was unhappy about this statement and replied that the Japanese people started the practice when there was not enough food, when people were in danger of dying from hunger. In the meantime the practice became habitual, unfortunately, but persists even today.

Neither were we successful, he answered, in selectivity: the rich and endowed people have few children, whereas the poor and less educated have more children. So we must not merely judge "success" from statistical tables, but must have an insight into the actual situation.

Representative Ozawa then made a point on the amendment as proposed by Professor Inoue. The proposal still permits abortion for economic reasons under special and certified circumstances. Hence there is still no clear line of logic in the newly proposed law. Fundamentally, human life is still calculated against cash. Professor Inoue replied that he was extremely happy to hear such a comment from a member of the Diet. He had left some leeway for abortion because of economic hardship in the amendment only because he had thought it would be impossible to get a hearing without such a provision. He was indeed encouraged by the attitude of Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Ozawa then stated that he is convinced that the law will remain ineffective, a zaruhoo (reed basket trying to hold water) if any economic reasons for abortion were to remain.

Mrs. Yamashita agreed with Mr. Ozawa. How unhappy we will be when we approach death if we should see the nation in ruins, and the people having so many abnormal children. We cannot die in peace unless we fight against the present practice. She recalled how a mother with a six year old boy visited her one day. The boy had talked to a friend and was heard to say: " I am really lucky to be living, because my elder brother and my younger brothers had their necks twisted."

Their mother was shocked to hear this from her son, but that is the kind of situation in which we are living. This bodes ill for the nation.

Mrs. Yamashita also mentioned that a girl from an upper class family was discovered to be pregnant. Mrs. Yamashita then called the mother of the girl, and lectured to them both. After the scolding the two left; and the girl returned to work the next morning -- minus the pregnancy! All of this illustrates the need of education towards chaste living. And she believes that child allowances should be introduced so that our people can have at least three children without exceptional economic burdens.

Mr. Inoue said that a repeal of the liberal abortion law might bring quick results. In Romania there was a birth rate of only 14.3 per thousand when abortions were permitted in 1966. When they were forbidden, the birth rate went up immediately to 27.1 per thousand, almost double.

At this point all rose as Speaker Shigemune ushered in Welfare Minister Saito and showed him the five large boxes with the 336,000 signatures. Minister Saito examined them, then thanked the members of the "Movement to Repeal the Eugenic Protection Law" for the effort made so far, to illustrate the real state of public opinion on abortion. He then promised to do his best to make an amendment of the law possible, but asked that, in conjunction with his efforts, the Diet Members also cooperate with him in the attempt to pass a law for mandatory child allowances. He stated that prohibition of abortion is not sufficient by itself. There must be a more positive approach as well. He feels that child allowances constitute such a positive approach. In fact, his office is now ready to submit to the Diet a bill which would effectuate the child allowance system, beginning next fiscal year, April 1. He invited the Diet Members to reciprocate by supporting his bill. Mr. Shigemune then thanked all present. and closed the meeting.

That evening the Catholic members of the Movement held a strategy session at the office headquarters located in the residence of the Divine Word Fathers near Ebisu Station in Tokyo. The seven felt that their efforts had been successful beyond expectation, since the professionals in the Diet had taken such interest. Things were moving faster than they had thought possible. But now be essential to broaden the ecumenical basis of the campaign, to shift emphasis from religious motivation to medical and social motivation and to enlist national leaders in the effort to unite public opinion towards repeal of easy legal abortion.

Postscript, August 2000: The saddest words of tongue or pen, are these sad words, "It might have been." The abortion law was amended to make abortion illegal once the baby is viable outside the womb, but was not amended to exclude economic or health reasons. Babies are becoming scarce in Japan with the years. The generation replacement rate has already fallen to 1.34. That is, 1.34 babies are born to replace their two parents. My Casio adding machine scolds that if 1.34 remains constant, and if 29 years is a generation, then Japan's population in the year 3000 will be 462 people. Complete extinction for lack of one remaining couple would happen before the year 3500. Nature is as unyielding to wishful thinking as adding machines. If the people don't have more babies, the end of Japanese history is now calculable. The nation is polishing its monument of "has-been" history. Need it be so?