One afternoon in mid-October, I found myself sitting alone at a long table at the front of a big conference room in the House of Councillors office building in the Nagatachō district of downtown Tokyo. A pro-life group called Seimei Sonchō Sentā (Respect Life Center) had invited me to be part of a panel charged with convincing politicians and bureaucrats not to approve oral abortifacients for use in Japan.
The room was filling up quickly, and I was beginning to get a bit nervous. People were still filing in when the “shikai,” the MC, started the proceedings. After a brief introduction of the pro-life speakers, he read out the names of the politicians and other special guests in attendance, and then gave me the signal to begin my talk. I had just fifteen minutes to convey as much information as I could about oral abortifacients.
I began by pointing out the thousands of adverse reactions reported to the FDA, quoting statistics for severe hemorrhaging, hospitalizations, and deaths. I talked about the work of Abby Johnson and Lila Rose, and encouraged the audience to watch the film Unplanned, and its harrowing scene depicting Johnson undergoing a chemical abortion. I urged the politicians and bureaucrats in the room not to subject Japanese women to such horrors as Abby Johnson and thousands of other American women have experienced. I pressed them to think about the psychological trauma that goes along with the physical agony. I spoke about Monty Patterson, whose daughter Holly died because she took abortion pills. “Please,” I said, “don’t let there be any Holly Pattersons here.” And I reiterated that abortifacients—which in Japanese are keikō chūzetsu yaku, “oral termination medicine”—are not “medicine” at all, but powerful poisons designed to kill a living, growing human being.
“There are no safe abortions,” I repeated several times in my talk. “It’s a myth. Abortifacients kill a child and expose his or her mother to serious danger.”
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I had not expected there to be a full house for a pro-life program—more than sixty people, including some of the top politicians in Japan. Politicians here, for the most part, simply ignore the pro-life issue. They fret in public about how the population of Japan is declining, but then they act, and vote, as though abortion were not robbing us all of a future. There are exceptions, like Yamatani Eriko, a longtime pro-lifer (and Catholic) and House of Councillors representative who is among the most prominent voices for life in Japan. Yamatani was at the October hearing and we were very happy to have her support. But all in all, the political class here has failed to protect the weakest members of Japanese society. Catholic novelist Sono Ayako has estimated that the number of aborted in Japan in the postwar years may be as many as one hundred million souls. Yes, that is correct—one followed by eight zeroes.
During the Q&A, I felt encouraged when a couple of politicians asked me to clarify details about the statistics I had given during my talk. At least they were listening! Other politicians grilled the bureaucrats who were there, asking them probing questions about fine points of Japanese law, and demanding to know whether abortifacients were as safe as the British manufacturer insisted.
But the bureaucrats, who ultimately will decide whether abortifacients will be approved for use, gave astonishingly thoughtless answers to the politicians’ questions about abortifacient safety. One very young man (I wondered, a bit uncharitably, if he had even graduated from university yet) had the gall to say: “As we move forward with the evaluation and approval process in accordance with the pertinent laws, we are operating on the understanding, per the data provided by the manufacturer, that the substance in question is safe for general use.”
I was stunned. No, I said to myself, the “substance in question” is not safe at all. Had the young man not been in the room when I gave my talk? Did he not hear another speaker, who also warned of the deadly harm chemical abortion can cause? Had he not understood the ensuing debate? Had he missed the testimonials and pleas from average women in the room, imploring the government not to unleash abortifacients on Japanese mothers?
Not long after the young bureaucrat gave his glib—and, frankly, heartless—answer, a noted pro-life leader in Japan, Miyata Osamu, rose to respond. Miyata, 75, is now a Shintō priest, but for many years he was a news anchor at NHK, the national broadcasting giant based in Tokyo. Miyata has a commanding presence, both as a holy man and a famous journalist. The room went silent as he upbraided the callow official: “Abortifacients are not safe,” Miyata said, his voice rising. “You need to think about the people of Japan. You need to think about the future of this country. Take responsibility and think about the lives that are at stake.”
As Miyata finished speaking, the room broke into applause. He had said what needed to be said. The young bureaucrat had been out of line. He seemed to have no care for the women who would be harmed, maybe even killed by the drug under consideration. Or the children who would be lost. He was concerned about paperwork, about filling out forms as part of his desk job.
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Over the past few weeks, I have done a lot of thinking about that afternoon in the House of Councillors building. I keep replaying in my mind the short exchange between the boyish bureaucrat and the aged pro-lifer. What I witnessed in the conference room that day challenged—exploded—the lie that abortion is needed to assure women’s autonomy.
Abortifacients are regulated by bureaucrats and politicians, people in faraway capitals who have no connection at all to those who might lose their lives—or have their lives irrevocably changed—because of the choices that are made in the halls of power.
The unsuspecting woman who gets an abortifacient prescription is, ironically, just as helpless as the child in her womb. She is at the mercy of policy wonks and political wheelers and dealers. Her autonomy is the exiguous appendage of a huge and faceless bureaucratic machine. That machine churns out laws and rules and mandates, props up politicians before television cameras and generates just enough scandal to keep the population interested in the business of government. But the machine has no clue about who will be ground to a pulp in its relentlessly spinning cogs. A million babies, a million more. Mother after mother after mother heartbroken, abandoned, afraid. Not one politician, not one bureaucrat involved in the approval process will ever know the name of even one of those whom their actions, and inactions, have inadvertently killed. Autonomy? More like anonymity.
In the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians we learn that we are not our own. We are bought with a price. This is the logic of salvation. The logic of the world, and especially of the bureaucracies and corporate boardrooms that run it, is the opposite. We are sold at a premium. Pharmaceutical companies say that the pills they peddle are “safe.” The bureaucrats and politicians whom the companies spend millions of dollars to lobby agree. The doctors who are richly rewarded for writing prescriptions for abortifacients also offer no objection. The media repeat the refrain, like a talking doll with a string coming out of her back, that all is well, that everyone is getting more and more autonomous thanks to the marvels of modern abortion.
The Respect Life Center in Japan, like pro-life organizations the world over, works to care for the women and children whom this cruel cult churns through. Treating a woman and her child with dignity and respect, as human beings deserving of love and protection—that is where real autonomy is nurtured. When people are loved, they are free to live fully human lives. For a few hours one October afternoon, the Respect Life Center and I implored the political class to see women and babies as people, not as numbers or as problems to be solved. If the response of the bureaucracy is any indication, though, it will take a lot more work before the political machinery recognizes the humanity of those whom the autonomy ideology has in its grip.