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International Wednesday, 3 March, 1999, 15:05 GMT
No pill yet for Japanese women
Memorial statues commemmorating aborted foetuses
Japanese authorities have again delayed a decision on whether to legalise the sale of the contraceptive pill - 34 years after it was introduced in other countries.

Japan is the only country in the United Nations where the pill is not available as a form of birth control, although it is used for medical reasons.

The country's health officials have been debating whether to allow its use for over 30 years and on Wednesday they deferred a decision again.

Pro-pill campaigners are angry at the delay.

Some accuse the government of sexism since it only took officials six months to decide whether to sell the male anti-impotence drug Viagra.

But members of the central pharmaceutical affairs committee of the health and welfare ministry say the talks on Wednesday achieved "a major step forward".

One official said: "We believe that we cleared probably the biggest hurdle for the ministry's approval."

Sexually transmitted disease

The main points covered at the meeting were concerns that using the pill would help spread sexually transmitted diseases such as Aids and the pill's side effects.

Condoms are the most common contraceptive in Japan and there are fears that legalising the pill could lead to an explosion in HIV rates as well as encouraging women to be more promiscuous.

"We concluded that the problems cannot be a major reason to prevent the release," said the official.

A final meeting to discuss the pill is expected to be held in June.

If the committee proposes approval, the pill could be on sale by the end of the year.

A spokesman for the prime minister, said the government was likely to opt to approve the pill, but there were still outstanding concerns about the contraceptive's use.

Abortion business

Various reasons have been put forward for the government's delay in approving the pill in addition to sexism.

They include allegations that the medical lobby is trying to protect the lucrative abortion business.

There were 337,799 abortions in Japan in 1997.

Others believe the government's reluctance is due to nationalist concerns about boosting the population.

The government's position is that it is concerned about side effects, but it has legalised the use of the high dosage oestrogen pill for women with hormonal problems.

A decision on the pill has been delayed for over 30 years
The BBC Juliet Hindel on the pill controversy
Juliet Hindell: "It may take until October for the pill to become available"
See also:

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