Media Mix, Mar. 24, 2013

imagesHere’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about coverage of a new prenatal screening test and the attendant discussion of abortion in Japan. The general opinion, both here and abroad, is that abortion is legal in Japan, but while it is widespread (more than 210,000 performed in 2010) it is not, strictly speaking, legal. It can only be performed under two conditions: if delivery of the child endangers the mother’s life, or if the mother cannot afford to raise the child. As pointed out in the column, the latter condition is the one used for the vast majority of pregnancy terminations in Japan, even if the women who undergo them don’t know it. There has been some controversy over the years, albeit of a very hushed nature, as to whether or not this financial condition has been supported by gynecologists who make their living from abortions, but since no one really wants to talk about it in the open it’s difficult to say. The greater prevalence of prenatal testing to discover birth defects and other disorders in fetuses, however, has forced the medical community to talk about abortion more openly since it is assumed that pregnant women may opt for abortion if they think their baby could have problems. The Aera article cited in the column explains that the opinion among doctors is split, with some saying that the “abortion crime law” should be amended to include mention of fetal health. However, one physician believes the law should more readily “adhere to international ethical standards with regard to the right to life,” which I take to mean that the fetus is considered a human being with a full set of civil rights. A different doctor believes that making a law protecting the fetus will simply “open up a Pandora’s Box,” because of the “gray zone” of determining what constitutes a life and what doesn’t, especially when talking about fetuses with very serious birth defects. In any event, the abortion law has been hidden for too long, and has been used by the government as more of an economic tool than a medical or even a moral one, as explained in this report. As often happens in such legal arguments that involve government policy, the people most directly involved, in this case women, haven’t been sufficiently consulted.

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