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Where We’re Going; Where We’ve Been: Abortion in Japan, Rwanda and the United States
Two stories from the international abortion scene caught my attention in recent days. The first comes from Japan, the second from Rwanda. To put things in context, Japan legalized abortion in 1949, 24 years before it was legalized in the United States. That places Japan significantly ahead of the US in its mainstreaming of abortion. By contrast, most abortions remain illegal in Rwanda. The Rwandan government has yet to follow us down the pathway of abortion-on-demand, though it's facing increasing, international pressure to do so. But where exactly does that pathway lead?
In the case of Japan, it may well lead to extinction.
Last week, it was widely reported that if Japanese births continue along the current rate of decline, there will be no Japanese children left by 3011. Today, there are an estimated 16.6 million Japanese children under the age of 15, but that number decreases by one, every 100 seconds. Japanese diaper-manufacturer, Unicharm, announced two weeks ago that, for the first time in history, adult-diaper sales have surpassed baby-diaper sales. The numerous articles I have read on the subject suggest many reasons for this alarming decline, from the increasing cost of raising children to the decreasing desire to get married, but none of them mention abortion. The reason this strikes me as such a glaring omission is because of the reason abortion was first legalized in Japan.
Mariko Kato, a staff writer for The Japan Times reports in a 2009 article that "after World War II, overpopulation was considered a threat to economic progress in light of the postwar baby boom, and abortion was effectively legalized in 1948 under the Eugenic Protection Law." By placing abortion under the broader banner of "eugenic protection," abortion-on-demand was effectively legalized (as a combatant to overpopulation), without formally compromising centuries of legislative consensus. What was that consensus? Tiana Norgren writes in Abortion Before Birth Control: The Politics of Reproduction in Postwar Japan that from 1603-1868, "national and local government leaders… repeatedly condemned [abortions] as immoral acts of murder." And Kato reports that abortion was criminalized under Japan's first penal code in 1880. Nevertheless, concerns about the economic threat of population growth "and pressure from doctors who saw abortion as a lucrative source of income," convinced Japanese lawmakers to abandon their principled opposition to abortion.
Under the Eugenic Protection Law, "a woman qualified for abortion if she or her partner had a hereditary physical or mental illness or a nonhereditary mental illness… if she had been raped, if childbirth would seriously harm her health, or if she could not afford to raise the child." Through the 1950's and 60's this legislation drew the moral ire of nations in the West, "where abortions were a religious taboo." Now of course, the West has joined them and shifted their moral ire to countries like Rwanda, where abortion-on-demand is not legal.
Whereas Japan shows the United States where we may be heading, Rwanda shows us where we've been. And the same vacuous reasons that were used to legalize abortion in the United States are now being trotted out in Rwanda. An All Africa story reported last week that the "Rwandan legislature recently approved a bill legalising abortion in cases of rape, forced marriage or incest." As a result, people on both sides of the abortion debate are unhappy. Those championing abortion-rights want the law to go further. Those opposed to abortion feel the new law has already gone too far. Summarizing the position of "many Rwandan women," the story quotes a young student named Marianne Irankunda. She says, "Let's not fool ourselves; abortion is widely practised in the country, even in rural areas. It is done secretly and in extremely dangerous circumstances. Abortion should simply be legalised."
Notice that this argument skips right over the ethical question and asserts that legal abortion is a practical necessity because abortion is already happening illegally. And how do we know it's happening illegally? Because the Guttmacher Institute tells us it is–to the tune of 60,000 abortions a year. This is precisely the tactic that was used to legalize abortion in the United States almost 40 years ago, and once again, the estimated number of illegal abortions is being provided by a group that is dedicated to the global, normalization of abortion-on-demand. The Guttmacher Institute is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. Are they more to be trusted than NARAL, who grossly inflated illegal abortion numbers in the US all those years ago? NARAL co-founder, Bernard Nathanson, said before his death:
I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the "morality" of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.
In the absence of hard data, the abortion industry has already demonstrated their willingness to supply the press with any number they deem useful. Could the Guttmacher Institute be doing the same thing today? A similar question struck me as I researched abortion in Japan. Remarkably, Mariko Kato reports that the abortion rate in Japan is well below that of the US, roughly 9.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49 (verses 19.6 in the United States). But then I read that Japanese "obstetrician-gynecologists (ob-gyns) have long underreported abortions to avoid paying taxes on the income they generate." In places where abortion is legal, it's generally in the industry's best interest to underreport. In places where abortion is illegal, it is always in their best interest to overreport. All that to say, arguments based on statistics are dangerous because statistics are often unreliable–which is why I so appreciate the arguments that were put forth by some of those who oppose abortion in the All Africa story. I'll close with their remarks:
"Abortion is a crime like any other. Legalising abortion would be legalising crime and encouraging delinquency. We will end up legalising euthanasia."
-- Illuminata Mukashema, civil servant
"After the genocide against the Tutsis we found the strength to abolish the death penalty. We cannot undo that by legalising abortion, which is also premeditated murder of innocents. This amendment is violating the right to life enshrined in our constitution. I understand the psychological trauma of a woman who was raped or forced into marriage, but killing the child she is carrying would only add to her trauma. My suggestion would be to psychologically strengthen the mother in order for her to raise the child."
-- Marie-Immaculée Ingabire, activist in the prevention of violence towards women.
"We choose the child's life and, understanding the pain of the mother whose dignity was damaged, we are committed to supporting and helping her keep the child."
-- Statement from Rwandan bishops group, Conférence Episcopale du Rwanda (CEPR)
To these remarks, parliament spokesperson, Augustin Habimana, retorts. "We must have the courage to see both sides of the coin. Let us consider a woman who is forced to have a child that she might not love. Also imagine the disgrace of a child learning it was born from rape or incest." Like all the other arguments being floated in the defense of abortion, these too were made in the United States long before they were made in Rwanda, and they were made in Japan, long before they were made in the US. The United States would do well to stop following Japan down the pathway towards extinction, and Rwanda would do well to stop following us. But whether abortion ultimately threatens us with extinction or not, there's no denying that it kills the most helpless members of the human community–and that is tragedy enough.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.