TOKYO, Japan - Japan's health ministry will soon decide whether to make abortion pills available for the first time after the proposal cleared a major hurdle with endorsement by a government panel on Friday.
Abortion is legal in Japan up to 22 weeks, but a surgical procedure is currently the only option and consent is usually required from a spouse or partner.
British pharmaceutical firm Linepharma applied to Japanese health authorities in December 2021 for approval of its abortion pill, which can be used in early pregnancy.
Similar medication is available in many countries including France, which first approved the abortion pill in 1988, and the United States, where it has been available since 2000.
A ministry official told AFP that an expert panel had reviewed the proposal and "saw no problem with approving it. "
Japanese media reports said the drug could become legal for doctors to prescribe as early as March.
The government will first solicit a range of opinions and consult a higher-level review board because of "high public interest in the subject", the ministry official said.
Surgical abortions are not covered by Japanese public health insurance and can cost around 100,000 to 200,000 yen ($800 to $1,500). Late-stage terminations are sometimes even more expensive.
Campaigners in Japan are also pushing for better access to the morning-after pill, which prevents pregnancy.
Emergency contraception cannot currently be bought without a doctor's approval in Japan. It is also the only medicine that must be taken in front of a pharmacist to stop it being sold on the black market.