Japanese politician wants to boost the national birthrate by banning abortion

February 26, 2013

Seiko Noda, then the consumer affairs minister, talks at a 2008 press conference in Tokyo. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

Japan's low birthrate is a big problem for the country. First, it means that there are fewer working-age Japanese taxpayers for every Japanese retiree, over-burdening retirement and health care programs. Second, it means that the country's workforce is shrinking rapidly, making the overall economy less productive.

Seiko Noda, a legislator in Japan's house of representatives since 1993, has worked on the birthrate issue for years. She's not an obscure figure, having served in several cabinet positions. But her newest proposal is a little unusual and maybe a bit of a stretch. If we want people to have more babies, she argues in Japan's most-read newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, the country should just ban abortion.

Noda's plan makes perfect economic sense, if you assume that no one ever gets an abortion because they are incapable, for financial or other reasons, of raising the child that they would otherwise have. You also have to assume that the costs to society of forcing Japanese mothers to carry unwanted children to term would be outweighed by the benefits, for example because these children might become the responsibility of the state. And, finally, the plan works if you assume that forcing women to carry unwanted children to term would have no negative effects on the economic productivity of the mother, who might be a young student who would have to drop out of either school or the work force or both to have the child.

Here's part of Noda's Asahi Shimbun article, which says she is already planning to push this plan through (to be clear, I don't know that there is any evidence she will succeed). The translation is from the blog JapanCrush, which also has some skeptical social media reaction:

With 200,000 pregnancies being terminated per year, if we are to counteract the falling birthrate, then we must begin there. I intend to have this reviewed in the party’s Special Committee on Population Decline in Society following the Upper House elections. We will not only prohibit abortion, but instead of prohibition we must also create laws (to mediate) child adoption, and prepare an environment in which children who are born can be brought up in society.

Still, whatever you think of Noda's idea, the fact that she is considering it at all is a sign of how seriously Japan's leaders are taking the birthrate as a national issue. The economic indicators suggest they are correct to be so worried, although it's not clear that forcing unwanted children on mothers would be a net gain for the economy in the short- or long-term.

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