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Aborting in Asia – Junko Terao

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Aborting in Asia – Junko Terao

The decision by the US Supreme Court to cancel the federal right to abortion has rekindled attention on the issue in many countries. In Asia, 36 million women have abortions every year, writes the Nikkei Asia, which dedicated the last cover to an investigation into access to voluntary termination of pregnancy on the continent. 6 percent of maternal deaths in 2014 were caused by illegal abortions in countries where access to the practice is banned or severely restricted, and at the same time countries such as India and Vietnam, where it is legally permitted, are under grappled with the problem of selective abortions.

Even before a question of women’s fundamental rights, in many Asian countries, those free from religious influences, access to abortion is linked to a demographic issue. This is the case in Japan, where the tendency to stigmatize abortion has gone hand in hand with population decline. Japan was the first country on the continent to legalize abortion in 1948. It was a measure to contain the population boom at a time of economic difficulty for the country, which was emerging devastated by the war. Since 1949 abortion can be used for economic, medical or rape reasons. Until 1996 the law also allowed the sterilization, voluntary or not, of women with genetic diseases, psychiatric pathologies or intellectual deficits. Last February, for the first time, the supreme court recognized the right to state compensation for some victims of forced sterilization. In just over ten years, the annual number of new borns had almost halved, it is not clear whether this is due to the abortion law or not.

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Today Japan is one of the countries where there are fewer children, and while doctors previously turned a blind eye to mandatory requirements such as the consent of the husband for married women who wanted to have an abortion, in the last twenty years they have begun to observe the law in a way that more rigid. At one point the government proposed to eliminate economic difficulties among the reasons allowed by law to be able to abort, sparking mass protests. In the country, voluntary termination of pregnancy is allowed up to the twenty-first week after the last menstruation and can only be practiced with surgery because the abortion pill has not yet been approved. With a few exceptions, the national health system does not cover expenses, which are high and increase as the pregnancy progresses. Furthermore, the most used method in Japan is scraping, which involves more complications than aspiration, which is widespread in other countries.

Demographics and religion
Even in China, where the one-child policy governed the flow of births from 1980 to 2015, the broad access to voluntary termination of pregnancy was linked to the campaign for population control and not to women’s rights. According to Chinese authorities, 400 million births have been averted by 2016. Now, however, China is faced with the typical problem of advanced societies, the birth rate, and there is a risk that the abortion law could become more restrictive. There is already talk of “reducing unnecessary abortion for medical reasons” and in February the declaration of the state agency for family planning that it wanted to “intervene” on abortion alarmed.

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In India, where voluntary abortion has been legal since 1971 in the event of health risks and rape, the need for population control is added to the traditional preference for male children, which has led to abortion or infanticide. of millions of females. Especially in rural areas, where girls are considered an economic burden, 929 girls have been born for every thousand boys in the last five years. In theory, the law prohibits doctors from disclosing the sex of the fetus, as well as selective abortion, but those who can go abroad and those who cannot often risk their lives by resorting to illegal abortion, which causes death on average every day. of eight women.

Even in Vietnam, a country that holds the record for unwanted pregnancies in Asia, having sons is considered an advantage because the females, once married, will go to care for their in-laws. The choice to abort, permitted by law since the sixties, also affects many women the fear of having been exposed to agent orange, the deadly defoliant spread in the south of the country by the Americans during the war, which continues to cause the birth of children with malformations.

Countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines or Thailand, where culture and society are deeply influenced by religion (Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist), either completely prohibit or severely restrict access to abortion. In the Philippines, where the Catholic Church is very powerful, the penal code provides for up to six years of imprisonment for those who abort and those who help abort a woman. From 2021 in Thailand it is allowed to terminate pregnancy within 12 weeks. South Korea decriminalized abortion only in 2019, declaring the penalties for women and doctors unconstitutional.

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In Australia, the US Supreme Court decision has received criticism from both conservatives and progressives, but access to abortion in the country remains difficult. South Australia will be the last Australian state, on July 7, to decriminalize the practice but the fact that the gestational age within which it is allowed to terminate a pregnancy varies from state to state and that the practice is only available in cities, it makes it confusing, expensive, and effectively limits the right to a safe abortion.

New Zealand formally decriminalized abortion in 2020 and, according to a survey, has 77 percent of the population in favor of women’s freedom of choice. Yet the presence in parliament of conservative deputies opposed to the recognition of this right is worrying. The fear is that the decision of the US Supreme Court could reinvigorate an anti-abortion movement that has its potential champions in some politicians. “Today is a good day,” said national parliamentarian Simon O’Connor, who calls himself “strongly pro-life”.

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