A panel in Japan’s health ministry has approved the country’s first abortion pill, in a major step for reproductive rights decades after other countries made abortion medication widely available.
The ministry’s pharmaceutical board granted approval on Friday to the MeFeego Pack, an abortion pill manufactured by British pharmaceutical Linepharma, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The ministry had first convened in January to review the drug, before asking for the public to submit their opinions through an online portal. It will now go to the health minister for final approval.
The medication consists of two types of pill, and can be used within nine weeks of pregnancy, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. In a clinical trial in Japan, 93% of participants had a complete abortion within 24 hours, NHK reported.
The medication combines mifepristone and misoprostol, which the World Health Organization has included in its Essential Medicines List, described as safe and effective for pregnant people.
To date, only surgical abortion is available in Japan through two methods: the curettage method, which removes tissue inside the uterus with a metal instrument, and the evacuation method, which sucks out tissue through a tube, according to NHK.
The WHO has described curettage as an “obsolete” method that is less safe and much more painful, and has called for it to be replaced by the evacuation method or by medication like abortion pills.
The move also comes as abortion and reproductive rights have gained revived attention worldwide, with the US Supreme Court reversing overturned Roe v. Wade last year – ruling that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion.
Since then, a number of states have restricted access to abortions, while others moved to increase access.
The Japanese panel’s decision on Friday was celebrated by the country’s medical experts online.
Kanako Inaba, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, wrote on Twitter that the approval of abortion pills was an opportunity to spread greater sex education and awareness about contraceptive methods.
Japanese activists have been pushing for years for approval of the pills, with similar medications made available decades ago in other countries as Japan lagged ever further behind.
For instance, mifepristone was first approved in France in 1988, and in the US in 2000.
But others also pointed to the long road ahead, calling for greater protection for women.
Mihyon Song, another well-known Japanese obstetrician and gynaecologist, pointed to Japan’s controversial abortion laws, which require spousal consent – which activists have long argued denies women the right to make decisions on their own body.
Under Japan’s existing laws, women can only receive an abortion if a pregnancy “may significantly damage the person’s physical health due to bodily or economic reasons” or if they became pregnant due to rape.