Photo/Illutration The mifepristone (MF) and misoprostol (ML) pills developed by Linepharma of Britain (Provided by Linepharma)

Japan’s health ministry is leaning toward approving an abortion pill that will provide women with an alternative to a surgical procedure after an expert panel endorsed the move on Jan. 27.

Due to wide social interest in the issue, the ministry has opted to seek input from the public before giving its formal approval to the medicine.

A surgical procedure is currently the only option available for women in the early stages of pregnancy who do not want to give birth.

British pharmaceutical company Linepharma applied for approval of its abortion pill in December 2021. The panel said it had no issues concerning a combination of pills developed by Linepharma.

Women who have not gone beyond their ninth week of pregnancy would first take one mifepristone, which suppresses the progestational hormone needed to sustain pregnancy.

After 36 to 48 hours, this would be followed by ingesting four tablets of misoprostol, which constricts the uterus. This would involve placing two tablets each on the inside of each cheek where the drug would gradually disintegrate and seep into the inner membrane.

A clinical test in Japan involving 120 women between the ages of 18 and 45 resulted in 112 of them aborting the fetus within 24 hours of taking the pills for a success rate of 93.3 percent.

During the trial, 71 women were found to have developed an adverse effect, with 45 judged to have suffered a side effect due to the pills.

But all the women eventually recovered, with 90 percent only reporting minor or medium symptoms, including pain in the lower abdomen and vomiting.

Abortion pills were first approved in France and China in 1988. Abortion pills are currently available in about 80 nations and regions around the world.

But Japan has been slow to act in approving such medicine. It also lagged in switching to a less painful surgical procedure when women sought abortions.

Records show that about 126,000 abortions were performed in Japan in fiscal 2021. Of that number, between 80,000 and 90,000 of the women were in their ninth week of pregnancy or less, the target group for the new drug.

(This article was written by Kai Ichino and Kazuya Goto.)