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Women's Rights?

Women's Rights?: The Politics of Eugenic Abortion in Modern Japan

Masae Kato
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 342
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  • Book Info
    Women's Rights?
    Book Description:

    This volume explores the concept of Japanese reproductive rights and liberties in light of recent developments in disability studies. Masae Kato asks important questions about what constitutes personhood and how, in the twenty-first century, we come to understand eugenic abortion and other bioethical arguments. Tracing the origin and influence of the concept of a "right," the author places the term in local social and historical contexts in order to determine that it still carries overtones of Anglo-American philosophy, rather than universal truth. Digging deeply into Japanese debates on selective abortion, Women's Right? discusses how this charged term can be both de-Westernized and de-masculinized, especially in its appropriations by the Japanese women's movement and disability scholars. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0143-4
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 11-12)
    Masae Kato
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 13-34)

    These days we are witnessing a rapid advancement in reproductive technologies, not only in the post-industrial societies of Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, but also in societies dealing with nation-building, such as China and India. This book focuses on the issue of selective abortion, meaning the abortion of a foetus with an anomaly¹ with the help of technologies that look for a disability and an anomaly in foetuses.

    In Japan, amniocentesis was first introduced in 1968.² In 1983, in vitro fertilisation was practised for the first time. In the spring of 1996, maternal serum screening (MSS)³...

  5. 1 Historical Background
    (pp. 35-58)

    There are no known official regulations about abortion and infanticide that date back to before the Meiji period (1868-1912).¹ There was no strong opposition to abortion before 1868. Before the Meiji period there were records of recommendations of abortion by the local communities, in times of famine, to reduce birth rates and keep the population balanced with levels of agricultural production. Thus, before the Meiji period, abortion and infanticide were employed as means to survive poverty, according to the decisions made by households and communities.

    In 1868, the Meiji government prohibited midwives from providing abortion services. However, abortion by a...

  6. 2 Abortion Debates in the 1970s
    (pp. 59-84)

    On 25 May 1972, in the 68th Diet, a revised Eugenic Protection Law was proposed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.¹ The proposal consisted of three points: to remove the economic reasons clause, to introduce a selective abortion clause, and to set up a eugenic guidance system for women regarding the proper age to have a first child. This attempt to revise the law was not successful.

    The first point, to delete the economic reasons clause, was aimed at regulating access to abortion. The main people promoting this point in the draft belonged to a right-wing religious group,Seichô...

  7. 3 On women’s selfishness and the right to abortion
    (pp. 85-116)

    Women’s claim that they had a right to abortion was called ‘women’s selfishness’ by opponents of the Women’s Liberation Movement (the WLM) in Japan in the 1970s. According to these opponents, this is because the term ‘right’ eliminates the social context in which the decision-making to have an abortion takes place, such as women’s partners, foetuses, and disabled people. The idea of ‘elimination’ sometimes also carries the connotation of ‘breaking harmony in human relationships’ and ‘aggression,’ which was also part of the vocabulary used by opponents of the WLM.

    This chapter considerswhythe concept of ‘rights’ implies these ideas,...

  8. 4 Abortion Debates in the 1980s
    (pp. 117-140)

    Although Women in Action was successful in making the Japanese government sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), daily life for women did not improve. In 1978, the Ôhira administration, which was led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), proposed to revise the Basic Labour Law, in order to delete the special articles that it included for women. In the name of ‘equality’ between men and women, working conditions for women were ‘equalised’ with those of men, and this eventually made it more difficult for women, especially those who were wives and mothers,...

  9. 5 Analysis of the Discourse on the Concept of Individual, Political Rights in the 1980s
    (pp. 141-166)

    The notion of rights was more freely and frequently used during the 1980s than it was during the 1970s because of the way the term ‘right’ was used in the phrases ‘women’s right to self-determination’ and ‘reproductive rights’. So it can be concluded that the way the term ‘right’ is used in political struggles matters. However, where does the legitimacy for these phrases come from? In addition to the way ‘rights’ was used, there were more factors that provided women with the confidence to use this term.

    One factor was that these phrases were used and were legitimised in international...

  10. 6 The Debate on the Notion of Individual, Political Rights after the Repeal of the Eugenic Protection Law
    (pp. 167-194)

    In 1996, the Eugenic Protection Law was repealed. Although this discriminatory law against disabled people disappeared, it did not mean that discrimination against people with disabilities disappeared or that women’s reproductive rights were established. Women’s movement groups needed to continue their activities, seeking the abolition of the abortion articles from the Criminal Code and confronting new issues, such as those stemming from the rapid advancements in reproductive technology.

    This chapter presents a discussion of the transformations of the debate concerning abortion and rights following the abolition of the Eugenic Protection Law.

    After the abolition of the Eugenic Protection Law, the...

  11. 7 Liberated Individuals?
    (pp. 195-218)

    Entering the 1990s, in Japanese abortion debates the term ‘right’ is used more and more frequently, in the form of ‘right to self-determination.’¹ The phrase opened a route toward possible collaboration between women with and without disabilities, since both the acts of having an abortion and of giving birth were considered to fall within the scope of ‘women’s right to self-determination’. Thus, when women in the Japanese women’s reproductive health movement referred to ‘women’s right to self-determination’, they meant more than women’s right to give birth or not. Women’s right to self-determination had become an instrument to resist oppression and...

  12. Conclusion Summary of the Analysis and the Future of the Concept of ‘Rights’
    (pp. 219-240)

    In 1972, when the Ministry of Health and Welfare, together with the religious groupSeichô no ie, attempted to revise the law in order to limit women’s access to abortion, women all over Japan united to prevent this revision. In doing so, women used the slogan ‘women’s right to abortion’, but the phrase soon invited criticism from disabled people. The argument of disabled people was that women should not use the phrase of ‘a right to abortion’ because it would include the right to abort foetuses with disabilities. According to them, if women abort a foetus with an anomaly because...

  13. Appendix 1 Crimes of abortion (Chapter 29 of the Japanese Penal Code)
    (pp. 241-242)
  14. Appendix 2 The Eugenic Protection Law
    (pp. 243-256)
  15. Appendix 3 The Law to Protect the Mother’s Body
    (pp. 257-260)
  16. Appendix 4 A demand letter from Osaka Aoi shiba no kai to the Hyôgo Prefecture
    (pp. 261-262)
  17. Appendix 5 A leaflet written and distributed by TANAKA Mitsu, on behalf of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Tokyo, 1973)
    (pp. 263-268)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 269-312)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-336)
  20. Index
    (pp. 337-342)