Abortion in Japan is governed by two pieces of legislation. The first is the Criminal Code, first enacted in 1880 = and in its present form from 1908.

Government policy in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, was to restrict abortions so as to build up the population to support Japanese expansion.

The second piece of legislation governing abortion is the Eugenic Protection Law. This was enacted in 1940 and based on Nazi Germany’s eugenic (racial purity) laws of the 1930s.

In its original form, the Eugenic Protection Law had a two-fold purpose:
  1. to increase the number of Japanese
  2. to prevent the birth of genetically inferior offspring – and promote a genetically healthy population.
The current Eugenic Protection Law was approved in 1948 and, as amended in 1949 and 1952, was in effect with largely the same wording until 1996.

The Law was the product of socio-economic conditions in Japan in the years immediately after the Second World War, when Japan faced a serious imbalance between its rapidly growing population and the war-shattered economy. There was a high incidence of illegal abortion. The Government responded by promoting mainly traditional methods of family planning and by legalising abortion.

Because the new law permitted abortion on socio-economic grounds, they became available on request since the woman need only to find a doctor prepared to perform the operation. The time limit for abortions was not specifically set by the Law, but viability was designated as the limit for all abortions.

There have been two changes to Japan’s abortion law one minor and one major. The minor change occurred in 1991 when the Government lowered the viability age to 22 weeks, reflecting the development of medical technology to keep premature babies alive.

The major change involved large-scale rewriting of the Eugenics Protection Law. The word “Eugenics” was removed and the law (now renamed the Maternal Protection Law) revised to remove its eugenic features. Abortions were now permitted only on health, rape and socio-economic grounds.

With the liberalized law of 1948, abortion became the primary method of birth control in Japan. The high incidence of abortion was partly due to Government restrictions on contraceptive use. The Pill was illegal until 1999.