Japan May Allow Women to Use Pill - Finally History, Male- Domination Work against Legalization

By Shirk, Martha | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 18, 1997 | Go to article overview

Japan May Allow Women to Use Pill - Finally History, Male- Domination Work against Legalization


Shirk, Martha, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Thirty-seven years after birth control pills began transforming sexual behavior in the United States, Japan is finally ready to let its women take them.

Maybe.

After years of study, a government advisory committee announced last month that it would recommend legalizing low-dose birth-control pills. But the Ministry of Health and Welfare makes the decision, and Parliament gets the final say. Several times, the Japanese government has been on the brink of approving birth control pills, only to step back. Japan is now the only developed nation where women don't have access to the pill. "Unless the government approves it this time, other countries will laugh at us," said Yasuo Kon, executive director of the Family Planning Federation of Japan. One of the factors militating against birth control is Japan's declining birth rate. In 1995, Japan's birth rate fell to a low of 1.43 children per woman, compared with 1.9 for Missouri women. The so-called replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman. A Cultural Issue The birth control pill, first marketed in the United States in 1960, has been one of the most socially significant drugs ever developed. Despite concern about side effects, up to 90 million women around the world rely on it, including about 10 million in the United States. The reasons for Japan's hesitation about the pill are intertwined with its military, economic and cultural history, along with a mistrust of medicine, a reluctance to talk about sex and the country's male-dominated structure. "There are many individual male parliamentarians who do not want women to control their own bodies," says Yuriko Ashino, deputy director of the Family Planning Federation of Japan. "They think that women should have more babies, that Japan will disappear if the population continues to decline." Backing And Filling Ironically, Japan was the site of the first international family planning conference at which the pill was discussed, in 1955. Soon after, the Japanese government launched clinical trials. But they were halted because of concerns about side effects. In 1970, new clinical trials began, this time for a lower-dose pill. In 1992, a government advisory committee announced it would recommend approval. …

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