Japan will consider easing regulations on the sale of emergency contraceptive pills without a prescription, the health minister said Friday, taking a step toward allowing the kind of over-the-counter birth control that is already available in dozens of other countries.
The "morning-after pill" is currently only available with a doctor's prescription in Japan, but activists have long argued that it should be freely available to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
"We would like to thoroughly discuss (the issue)," health minister Norihisa Tamura told a press conference.
Tamura said he is aware that there is demand for the pills as a means to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and that the results of past government discussions on the issue will be taken into account when the ministry conducts a further review without setting a deadline.
If everything goes well, the pill could be legalized next year, government sources said.
Under the current rule, women including victims of sexual assault need to go to clinics or hospitals for a prescription in order to obtain emergency contraceptives, which work best within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
On Thursday, a government panel on female empowerment decided to include a policy of making non-prescriptive contraception available under a proposed five-year plan for promoting gender equality.
As of Friday, an initiative calling for non-proscription sales of the pills in Japan on the online petition platform Change.org had received just over 91,000 signatures.
Abortions are legal in Japan with some 160,000 reported in the fiscal year ending in March 2019, including 13,588 cases involving women under the age of 20, according to the health ministry.