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The Pro-Life Movement in Japan


The birth rate in Japan is among the lowest in the world. But what about the abortion rate? This essay examines changes in abortion practice in Japan over time, and especially after WWII and the passage of the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law, comparing the influence of Buddhism, Protestantism, and Catholicism on the practice of abortion in Japan. This essay takes a particular look at the career of Dr. Kikuta Noboru, who helped revolutionize Japanese adoption laws after his conversion to Christianity.

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  1. 奥山佳恵のてきとう絵日記, Okuyama Yoshie’s Illustrated Diary of Various Things






  7. The abortion rate was 16.9 per 1000 women aged 15-to-44 in 2011, and 16.3 in 1973.

  8. Some 21% of all pregnancies in the United States still end in abortion.

    Some 40% of all unintended pregnancies in the United States end in abortion.

    A more complete portrait of the Roe and Doe decisions, including their sociocultural and sociolegal background and political ramifications, can be found in Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter, 2013)


  10. Some analysts hold that Japan’s having legalized abortion before chemical birth control established a norm for using abortion as birth control, and also that the introduction of the Pill in 1999 contributed to the falling abortion rate. Such analysis ignores the fact, statistically supported in the United States, at least, that chemical birth control methods tend to increase the abortion rate. See


  12. See Fabian Drixler, Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660–1950 (University of California Press, 2013).

  13. LaFleur, 10–11

  14. LaFleur, 11

  15. See William J. Curran, “An Historical Perspective on the Law of Personality and Status with Special Regard to the Law of Status and the Rights of Women,” in The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly: Health and Science, Vol. 61, No. 1, Special Issue: The Problem of Personhood: Biomedical, Social, Legal, and Policy Views (Winter, 1983), pp. 58–75. Curran cites the Digest of Roman Laws,; 1.5.7; 50.16.231; and 1.5.26.

  16. Theirs, as LaFleur points out—borrowing Clause Lévi-Strauss’ concept of the bricoleur as challenged and modified by Jeffrey Stout in Ethics after Babel—is a moral bricolage, an assortment of practices and beliefs that mutually contradict but that nevertheless continue to exist side by side. LaFleur, 12, citing Jeffrey Stout, Ethics after Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Boston: Beacon Press), p. 74.

  17. a reference to a kind of Hades, or place of unredeemed shades

  18. A fairly typical Jizō arrangement is pictured here:

    The caption reads, “O-Jizō-san—I somehow feel comforted whenever I look at him”

  19. Shinagawa Shinryō, “Yūsei hogohō ni tsuite kairō suru” (Personal memoirs on the Eugenic Protection Law), in Seminā iryō to shakai (26), 2004, pp. 12–23. For a brief summary of the law and its prewar origins and postwar development, see Matsubara Yōko, “Kagakushi nyūmon: yūsei hogohō no rekishizō no saikentō,” in Kagakushi kenkyū, Vol. 41 (2002), pp. 104–106.

  20. The National Socialists were particularly enamored of Laughlin, and Heidelberg University even went so far as to award him an MD honoris causae in 1936 for his eugenicist research. See letter from Laughlin to W.P. Draper, Dec. 23rd, 1936, in the Laughlin Papers, Washington University of St. Louis, cited in Randall D. Bird and Garland Allen, “The J.H.B. Archive Report: The Papers of Harry Hamilton Laughlin, Eugenicist,” Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Autumn, 1981), p. 341.

  21. LaFleur, 135

  22. LaFleur, 161–162

  23. Because Shakyamuni had spoken very little about the soul or its destiny after death. See LaFleur, 164, citing Fujiyoshi Jikai, “Bukkyō ni okeru reikon sūhai ni tsuite,” Daihōrin 54:7 (July, 1987), 108–109.

  24. LaFleur, 162, citing Ōta Tenrei, “Mizuko kuyō no zaiaku,” in Chūzetsu ha satsujin de ha nai [Abortion is not murder] (Ningen no Kagakusha, 1983), pp. 48–52.

  25. Interestingly, as the mizuko kuyō ritual has fallen out of fashion within Japan, it has been gaining new adherents within the United States. See, e.g., Jeff Wilson, Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America (Oxford University Press, 2009).

  26. Puroraifu, newsletter of Chiisana Inochi wo Mamoru Kai, various issues.

  27. See Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books, 2013).

  28. ALL about Issues, April, 1989, archived at

  29. Ibid., archived at Fr. Zimmerman cites approvingly elsewhere the inspiration for his piece, Lynn D. Wardle’s “‘Crying Stones’: A Comparison of Abortion in Japan and the United States,” New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 14, Nos. 2 & 3 (1993), pp. 183–259.

  30. See, e.g., Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, Seimei mondai ni kan suru: Katorikku no oshie (Enderure Shoten, 1996), tr. by Fr. John Nariai.

  31. Dr. Kikuta is thus somewhat akin to Bernard Nathanson, the American abortionist who helped secure the pro-abortion victories in the Supreme Court in the early 1970s but who then, under the guidance of Priests for Life founder Fr. Frank Pavone, converted to Catholicism and became a prominent authority on life issues. Interestingly, Dr. Kikuta had been a Buddhist before his conversion to Christianity.

  32. Dr. Kikuta faced ongoing legal repercussions for these well-intentioned forgeries. Details are in his court records, e.g., “Igyō teishi shobun torikeshi nado seikyū jiken,” Gyōsei jiken saiban hanreishū, Vol. 33, No. 2 (1982), pp. 692, ff. A good synopsis of Dr. Kikuta’s case is Yoshida Kashimi, “Kikuta ishi jiken to yūsei hogohō kaisei mondai: umu jiyū wo megutte” (‘Dr. Kikuta’s Adoption Movement and Campaigns to Amend the Eugenic Protection Act: On Reproductive Freedom to Give Birth’), in Igaku tetsugaku igaku rinri, Vol. 29 (2011), pp. 53–62. A much more detailed study is Nobe Yōko, Yōshiengumi no shakaigaku: ketsuen wo meguru hitobito no kōi to ishiki, PhD dissertation, University of Tokyo, Feb. 20th, 2014.

  33. A detailed account is in Tsujioka Kenzō, Chiisana kodō no messe-ji (Inochi no Kotobasha, 1993), pp. 57, ff.


  35. 千千葉茂樹 (1933-). Prof. Chiba’s documentary on Mother Teresa, “The World of Mother Teresa,” (Maza- Teresa to sono sekai (マザーテテレサとその世界)) won multiple awards after its release in 1979.

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Correspondence to Jason Morgan.

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Morgan, J. The Pro-Life Movement in Japan. Soc 54, 238–245 (2017).

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  • Pro-life
  • Abortion
  • Japan
  • Mizuko
  • Buddhism
  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • Kikuta Noboru
  • Tsujioka Kenzo
  • Pro-Life Japan
  • Eugenics Preservation Law
  • Harry Hamilton Laughlin
  • Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP)
  • Jizo
  • Mabiki
  • Anthony Zimmerman
  • John Nariai