$1K for Abortion Pill? Proposal in Japan Fuels Outrage

$1K for Abortion Pill? Proposal in Japan Fuels Outrage

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Morning after pill
Picture: mits / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Some people in Japan don't want women to have easy access to an abortion pill. One of them? The country's chief gynecologist.

Japan is catching up to the rest of the world in women’s reproductive health. If everything goes well, the country may see an abortion pill approved for sale for the first time ever.

But some people don’t want women in Japan to get it so easily. And one of them is…the country’s chief gynecologist.

Reproductive Health in Japan

Most folks don’t realize how far behind Japan is when it comes to women’s reproductive health. Pregnancy prevention methods for women are expensive and sometimes hard to obtain. As a result, the most common method of birth control is still condoms. (Only 14.6% of American women rely solely on condoms for pregnancy prevention. In Japan, that number’s closer to 82%.)

Morever, Japan still uses the dilation & curettage method primarily for abortion. This contradicts the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe abortion, which calls for using the safer and less painful evacuation method or – preferably – providing easy access to the morning-after pill[1].

Fortunately, women can buy emergency contraception in the form of levonorgestrel in Japan. However, it requires a prescription from a doctor. That prompted activists to launch a campaign to approve the medication for OTC use. They argued that speed is of the essence when it comes to emergency contraception. Forcing women to get a prescription, they said, leads to unwanted pregnancies.

To their credit, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced they would do just that. The effort is proceeding under LDP PM Kishida Fumio.


Head OB/GYN: Make It as Expensive as Surgery

As a deterrent, Japan's head OB/GYN recommended making the abortion pill as expensive as surgery: 100,000 yen – or close to USD $1,000. It normally sells for around USD $7. Click To Tweet

In the latest step forward for women’s reproductive health, Japan’s received its first application from UK company Linepharma to approve an abortion pill.

The medication, sold under the brand name MS 2-Step, is a combination of two pills – mifepristone, a hormonal blocker; and misoprostol, a prostaglandin analogue[2]. Taken together, the two pills can end a pregnancy within 10 weeks. The abortion pill is different from levonorgestrel – the morning after pill or “Plan B” – which prevents a pregnancy from occurring in its earliest stages[3].

The abortion pill is available in over 80 countries worldwide. If approved, it would dramatically lower the cost and ease access to abortion for women in Japan. It would also provide a less painful and safer alternative to surgical abortion.

However, not everyone’s happy about it. One of the people not happy about it? Kinoshita Katsuyuki, the head of Japan’s OB/GYN association.

In comments to NHK News, Kinoshita said, “I’m worried that women will use it easily for abortion.” As a deterrent, he recommended making the medication as expensive as surgery: 100,000 yen – or close to USD $1,000. It normally sells for around USD $7.

For some reason, Japan’s head OB/GYN always seems to be (1) a man who (2) doesn’t think women in Japan can be trusted with anything. I previously wrote about the former head of the OB/GYN association, who came under fire for his comments on the morning-after pill. Women lambasted Maeda Tsukio after he said that women’s sexual education in Japan was too low to trust them with the OTC morning-after pill.

Outrage Erupts Online

Kinoshita’s statement was buried at the bottom of a long NHK article. But, of course, nothing escapes the eagle eye of the Internet. Pretty soon, JP users created a trending hashtag: #経口中絶薬の高価格設定に反対します (I oppose a high price tag for the oral abortion pill). User @momosadomomo captured a lot of people’s sentiments[4]:

If you’re so worried about sexual promiscuity, you should have proper sex education and zoning of porn, raise the age of sexual consent, make it easy and cost-effective to get the morning-after pill, and address making father’s responsibilities more transparent – not restrict the rights of women.

And user @maya_ayam00 chimed in[5]:

Are you serious? Selling a 780 yen medication for 100K to prevent women from getting easy abortions? We’re not livestock – we’re human beings.

No one has made any announcements as to the abortion pill’s price. And Linepharma still faces a series of approvals before it can begin sales. If I were a betting man, I’d predict that the outrage over Kinoshita’s comments means the pill won’t cost anywhere close to 100K yen.

The other question is whether Kinoshita keeps his job after these remarks. We could be looking at a new head of Japan’s OB/GYN association by early next year. And, hey – maybe this time, it’ll even be a woman.

Japan to Make Morning-After Pill More Accessible


[1] 「経口中絶薬」の使用 承認申請 国内初 手術伴わない選択肢. NHK News

[2] MS-2 Step Mifepristone Linepharma 200 mg Tablet Pack. NPS AU

[3] Levonorgestrel Tablet Contraceptives – Uses, Side Effects, and More. WebMD

[4] Tweet by @momosodamomo

[5] Tweet by @maya_ayam00

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Jay Allen

Jay manages the technical writing practice for ercule, an SEO, content strategy and analytics firm. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

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