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Necessity of A Spouse’s Consent for Abortion

July 07, 2022

Hikari Ishikawa

Is a spouse’s consent necessary for an abortion? In Japan, the curettage method accounts for 80% of all abortions. In developed countries, including Europe and the United States, this method is rarely performed. Also, the abortifacient which WHO recommends has not been introduced in Japan and abortion costs are expensive. There are a lot of problem in Japan. Furthermore, spouse’s consent is even


Trends of Abortion in Japan

In Japan, first legal frame for abortion was the Eugenic Protection Act enacted in 1948. The law stipulated that abortion was illegal but it only allowed specific doctors to give treatment for eugenic protection. The discriminative law continued for 50 years and finally in 1996, Maternal Health Act was enacted. It allows abortion for the purpose of protecting the mother’s life and health.

However, women cannot have an abortion without their spouse’s consent to Maternal Health Act. In response to this, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare made by-laws. For example, “unnecessary in case of unmarried” “only first-person informed consent is required in cases where the marriage has broken down due to domestic violence by the husband or other reasons and it is difficult to obtain consent.” Although the number of conditions under which abortions can be given treatment without a spouse is increasing, this does not mean that law is revised. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare made a statement, “spouse’s consent is required”, over introducing abortifacient.

However, even if a wife thinks she cannot bear a child due to various causes, but her husband wants her to have a child, she cannot choose not to have a child. A woman cannot make the choice not to bear a child by herself.

Pre-modern Japanese Family System and Abortion

The reason why the remaining spouse’s consent remains in the pre-modern Japanese family system. In the Meiji-era legal system, the head of the household was given strong authority and responsibility to unify the family and manage its assets. Only the father received custody of the children and inheritance rights, while the wife did not have these authorities. Upon marriage, the wife officially joined her husband’s clan and took the right to use the clan’s name. Any children born were considered children of the clan. This system was abolished under the Civil Code after World War II, but the abolition of the legal system did not mean that such custom ceased to exist. Even today, the customary sense of home remains. As evidence of this, it is standard for a wife to change her family name after marriage, and she is sometimes treated like a daughter-in-law.

Old legal system did not allow women the right to make their own decisions. The notion still remains in the problem of abortion in Japan. It will be difficult to have and raise a child if one of them considers it impossible to bear a child.

Time to Change the Main Rule

According to a survey by Ipsos, a research company, in 2021, 65% of the respondents thought that abortion should be allowed. On the other hand, 26% said they did not know or they did not have any opinions. This is a very high number compared to other countries. Due to the indifference of the Japanese people regarding abortion, the main rule has remained unchanged for long years and only by-laws have been technically added. More people should speak out on this issue and now is the time for Japan to change the main rule for abortion to protect reproductive health for women.




「○○家の嫁」意識なぜ残る GHQと日本側の攻防/田中聡子/





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