Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rebuked the country's health minister on Monday for calling women "birth-giving machines," but dismissed calls for him to resign.

"I reprimanded him severely," Abe said, adding that he saw no reason for Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa to step down. "From now on, I hope he will remain fully devoted to his job and obtain the people's understanding."

Abe's scolding came hours after a group of 27 female lawmakers filed a protest demanding Yanagisawa's removal.

"While lodging a strong protest to his comments, we demand the minister recall his comments and resign," the opposition lawmakers said in their protest.

Yanagisawa made the inflammatory remarks on Saturday during a speech on the country's falling birthrate, drawing criticism from the opposition and the ruling bloc.

"The number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 is fixed. The number of birth-giving machines (and) devices is fixed, so all we can ask is that they do their best per head," Yanagisawa reportedly said. The minister later apologized and retracted his remarks.

The government has been trying to persuade couples to have more children, amid concerns about the country's shrinking population. In 2005, the average Japanese woman had 1.26 babies in her lifetime, a record low and far below the level needed to keep the country's population steady.

A proposal adopted in June calls for boosting child care, promoting greater gender equality, and encouraging companies to be more flexible in allowing staff to take care of family responsibilities.

But the high cost of raising children, as well as the lingering notion that women should quit their jobs after giving birth, has meant many opt to have few or no children.