A Woman's Story About Getting An Abortion In Japan Is An Important Reminder That Abortion Access Is A Problem Worldwide
More than 40 years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided that women have a right to terminate their pregnancies. That right came under attack almost immediately, and recently, anti-choice lawmakers have managed to roll back access to abortion in many states. The legality of abortion is a contentious topic in American politics, but as one woman's recent Reddit post about getting an abortion in Japan shows, access to the procedure is a problem around the world — not just the United States.
On Sunday, a Reddit user shared her experience with abortion on Two X Chromosomes, a women-oriented subreddit. The community's content tends to range from the lighthearted (please see: Dave the Period Fairy) to the serious; needless to say, this woman's story fell into the latter category.
Six years ago, according to the post, she was a 19-year-old newlywed living in Okinawa, Japan. Six months after getting married, she discovered that she was unexpectedly pregnant. Given that she didn't want children, she opted for an abortion — a decision her husband didn't support at the time. After some online research, which she performed alone, she found the name and address of a clinic on Okinawa. Theoretically, that should have been the end of the story, but in real life, things were more complicated.
"When I found someone who spoke English, I had to repeat the word 'abortion' to the nurse several times in the waiting room. Each time, she repeated the word in Japanese and the women around me would cringe.
I had a pelvic exam by a male doctor. He told me it was too early to tell if I was pregnant — come back in 4 weeks. I came back and the same doctor performed an internal ultrasound. I was terrified because I didn't even know that was a thing. He pointed at the screen and made cutesy baby noises. He spoke limited English but kept saying 'twins? twins?' He printed out an ultrasound picture and told me to keep it."
According to NARAL, ultrasounds are not medically necessary for most women seeking abortions, but it's still a common practice. In fact, some parts of the United States legally require doctors to show and describe the ultrasound to their patient, despite research showing that this rarely, if ever, changes a woman's decision to have an abortion.
It took the Reddit user a few weeks to gather enough money to pay for the procedure, but once she had the cash, she returned to the clinic. "By this time I was much farther along than I wanted to be. ... All I know is my lower stomach had begun to harden and round out," she wrote.
Although the abortion itself didn't take much time, the recovery period lasted far longer.
"I slept for almost two days afterwards. My husband and I were civil to one another, but we didn't talk about it. He didn't ask questions, good or bad ones. He didn't want to know. I was confused and ashamed. I didn't feel guilty for not wanting a child, but then again I felt guilty because I didn't feel guilty? I've never been through such a complex mixture of emotions. I have not once felt regret for my decision, but I have felt intense sadness. I have relived the moments leading up to and following my abortion many times. I wouldn't wish for another woman to feel the shame or loneliness I felt those few months."
In a comment, she later attributed much of her hardship to her inability to speak Japanese. "I think it would have been more positive had I been able to speak up for myself and understand exactly what was [being] done to me," she explained.
It's worth noting that in Japan, abortion has been legal in certain circumstances, including economic hardship, since 1949 — far longer than it has been in other industrialized countries. However, a declining population has raised the possibility of the government restricting women's right to abortions in an effort to raise the birthrate.
Meanwhile, abortion is still heavily restricted in many other countries. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 25 percent of the world's population lives in one of the 66 countries where it is either totally illegal or permitted only to save the patient's life. Yet research has shown that instead of keeping women from getting abortions, making them illegal merely creates an environment where they are "clandestine and often unsafe," the Guttmacher Institute reports. While certain states have been tightening restrictions on abortion, the United States is certainly not the only country where a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is heavily regulated.
As for the Reddit user, things eventually started looking up. Her experience, not to mention the aftermath, took a toll on her marriage and mental health, but in the end, she and her husband finally talked things through. If you're interested, you can read her story in full on Reddit.