Women demand removal of husband's consent requirement for sterilization

By Minh Nga   June 17, 2024 | 06:30 pm PT
Women demand removal of husband's consent requirement for sterilization
Women cross a street in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by AFP
A Tokyo court is hearing out five women seeking to end their reproductive capabilities without the legally-required consent of their husbands.

In Japan, the Maternal Health Law stipulates that sterilization surgery for women is only permissible if the pregnancy or delivery poses a risk to their lives, or if they have multiple children and their health has been compromised by previous deliveries.

Additionally, the procedure requires consent from the spouse, including a common-law husband. Performing the surgery without meeting these conditions can result in up to a year of imprisonment or a fine of up to ¥500,000 (US$3,170). This law also applies to men seeking a vasectomy.

The five plaintiffs argued that Japan's law restricting sterilization surgery violates their constitutional rights to make decisions about their own bodies. Together, they are seeking ¥1 million in damages each, Japan Times reported.

During the first trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court last week, Kazane Kajiya, 27, said she has always been distressed by her reproductive abilities and never wanted children.

She had used birth control pills and was unhappy with its side effects. Her husband stands by her choice not to have children.

When she sought sterilization surgery, Kajiya discovered it was illegal in Japan unless medically necessary. She then traveled to the U.S. for the procedure, which was performed smoothly without intrusive questions about children or spousal consent.

Another plaintiff said she never wants to have children and revealed that she is not attracted to either men or women.

Attorney Michiko Kameishi, representing the plaintiffs, argues that Japan's Maternal Health Law’s sterilization regulations "violate the rights of individuals to self-determination," ABC reported.

These regulations stem from laws from the 1940s, when Japan's civil code restricted the decision-making rights of married women.

The law has little regard for women without partners, or married couples who do not want kids, she said.

Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, leading to existential threats of population decline and economic downturn. Young women choosing to live single lives are being blamed for issues related to low population growth.

Reuters said in February that the number of babies born in Japan fell for an eighth straight year to a fresh record low in 2023, citing government data.

The number of births fell 5.1% from a year earlier to 758,631, while the number of marriages slid 5.9% to 489,281 -- the first time in 90 years the number fell below 500,000 -- foreboding a further decline in the population as out-of-wedlock births are rare in Japan, it reported.

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