The young woman previously sought an abortion, but was far beyond Japan’s legal cut-off point for terminating pregnancies. Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images
A young Japanese woman admitted to killing her baby after giving birth at a bathroom in Haneda Airport in Tokyo in 2019.
Koyuri Kitai, 23, told a court at the start of her homicide trial on Monday that she fatally suffocated her crying infant with toilet paper and buried her body in a Tokyo park.
In Japan, homicide can be punished by a minimum sentence of five years and up to life imprisonment or death.
Kitai was visiting Tokyo from Kobe, a city near Osaka, for job interviews when she gave birth shortly after landing. She said it was an unwanted pregnancy, and felt she had no other choice but to kill her newborn.
“My doctor told me I couldn’t abort the baby, and I had no knowledge of what to do. I thought if I told my parents I’d shock them. I didn’t have the courage to consult them about the baby’s birth,” Kitai told the Tokyo District Court during her trial, as reported by Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Kitai was arrested in November after the infant’s corpse was found poking out of the Tokyo park’s soil, in a shocking case that has drawn discussion over Japan’s laws on abortion and lacking resources for pregnant women.
According to NHK, Kitai said the baby’s father was a customer from her part-time job. She kept her pregnancy a secret from her family, even refusing to go to a gynecologist for regular check-ups. By the time she did seek medical assistance, it was too late—abortions are available up to 21 weeks and six days of pregnancy in Japan.
Kitai said she didn’t know she was going to give birth on that specific day, but when she did, she “panicked.”
“I thought about calling an ambulance, but then I suddenly realized I was stuffing toilet paper in the baby’s mouth. I was worried and scared, I didn’t know what to do,” she was reported as saying.
Yumiko Nakajima, the head doctor of Shimodaira Ladies Clinic in Tokyo, said Kitai’s case is “saddening” and highlights the need for more support for pregnant women.
“It’s an example of a young woman who didn’t know what resources were available to her for this unwanted pregnancy,” she told VICE World News. “Even if we have funding and organizations that support women, if the information doesn’t get to them, there’s no point.”
In Japan, most reasons for terminating pregnancies are allowed, including when a woman feels she’s unable to financially support her child. But unlike other G7 nations, Japan still requires married women to get consent from their spouses before seeking abortion.
Nakajima said asking a woman to submit such spousal consent inhibits her freedom of choice. She welcomes current efforts—led by activists and lawmakers—to change that law, but she said the lack of support for single pregnant women was more troubling.
In her over 16 years as the director of Shimodaira clinic, Nakajima said she’s had a number of women in similar situations to Kitai’s, asking for abortions. “Past 21 weeks and 6 days, I have to turn them away. It’s difficult to do sometimes, but as a medical practitioner, I have to observe the law,” she said.
But to make sure these women knew what their options were, Nakajima said she provides them with the contact information of non-governmental organizations that provide financial assistance to single mothers, as well as adoption agencies they could explore.
“It’s very difficult to be a single mother in Japan. That’s why I think if the law prevents these women from aborting their infants after a certain time, there should