Abortion Pills Are Coming to Japan. Doctors Are Pushing Back.

vice.com -- Jan 14
Leading doctors are pushing for the abortion pill to be as expensive as the surgery, a procedure that’s not covered by health insurance.

In December, British pharmaceutical company Linepharma applied to the Japanese government for approval of their abortion pill. If endorsed, the pill would be the first medical abortion drug in the country, which abortion rights activists have said would make reproductive healthcare a lot more accessible and affordable.

But even before the pill has been formally approved, a process that’s expected to take up to a year, leading health experts worry that greater access could lead to abuse.

Kinoshita Katsuyuki, the head of Japan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a powerful industry group that represents a majority of doctors, said if the pill was deemed safe after clinical trials, then Japan has no choice but to approve it. “However, I am concerned that people will think this medicine can make abortions easier,” he said in an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK.

He added that only qualified doctors should be allowed to prescribe the pill, as heavy bleeding, a rare side effect of taking the medicine, could occur. “It’d be best to set the price of the abortion pill to how much the surgery costs—about 100,000 yen ($861),” he said. In some nations, the abortion pill is provided free of charge by the government.

But Kumi Tsukahara, a reproductive health rights researcher and activist, called the push to make abortion pills as expensive as surgeries “unbelievable,” accusing Katsuyuki and other doctors of trying to hold on to their effective monopoly on carrying out abortions. “These doctors are only thinking about their business,” she told VICE World News.

“In Japan, surgical abortions are already so expensive and unaffordable for some women,” she said. Abortions and contraceptives are not covered by national health insurance.

To price the abortion pill so high defeats the purpose of medical abortions, which help widen access to lower income women, Tsukahara added.