Japan’s fledgling pro-life movement finds secular and religious inspiration

Japan’s rapidly dropping birth rate, relatively high abortion rate, and low adoption rate have generated a small but growing pro-life movement in the country, receiving more support from evangelical Protestants rather than Catholics, writes Jason Morgan in the social science journal Society (June/July). Japan’s government has encouraged couples to have more children as the birth rate has fallen far below replacement level. Among other celebrities popular actress Okuyama Yoshie has publicized prolife values as she announced the birth of a child with Down syndrome, celebrating the lives of children with that condition (although she refuses to judge those who choose to abort children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome). Japan’s abortion rate has fallen since 2004 to about 15 percent in 2013. Buddhist influence has been minimal on Japanese attitudes toward abortion, even though the ritual of exorcism from the influence of spirits of aborted and miscarried children (which includes providing for their proper burial) is still carried out in many Buddhist temples. Most of the discourse in the nominally Buddhist nation tends to fall along the secular lines of the positive aspects of giving birth to children with congenital birth defects.

Christians have been the main groups who have moved into the work of adoptions and fighting abortions. “Unlike the United States, Protestants and not Catholics, have led these pro-life efforts. Significantly, the only national prolife organization was founded by a Protestant pastor. The Catholic Church has no pro-life apostolate in Japan, a situation which does not appear likely to change in the foreseeable future,” Morgan writes. A lone priest in the Japanese pro-life movement told him that the Catholic Church in Japan considers the movement too political and has deliberately chosen not to participate as a body in pro-life activities. Leading prolife activism in Japan is Dr. Kikuta Noboru, a doctor who was a prolific abortionist but later converted to Christianity and became an adoption advocate (helping to normalize the practice in the country) and anti-abortion crusader. Japan’s first pro-life march in 2015 drew only 35 participants, although last year’s event attracted nearly 100.

(Society, https://link.springer.com/journal/12115)