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Court Orders Nepal to Improve Women’s Access to Abortion
New York (May 20, 2009)—Today, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the
Nepal government to enact a comprehensive abortion law to guarantee
that women have access to safe and affordable abortion services. Since
2002, Nepalese law has permitted abortion under most circumstances, but
multiple barriers—including the government’s failure to implement its
own policy, prohibitive costs, and inadequate availability of abortion
providers—have prevented women from accessing safe abortion services.
Under the court ruling, the government must set up a fund to cover the
cost of abortion for poor and rural women; and invest enough resources
to meet the demand for abortion services and to educate the public and
health service providers of the existing abortion law.
“This is one of the most important legal victories for women in Nepal
in almost a decade,” said Melissa Upreti, regional manager and legal
adviser for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Thousands of
women in Nepal either die or suffer health complications every year
from unsafe abortion. Many are forced to suffer in silence due to their
inability to pay for safe services or the lack of information. This
decision shows that protecting women’s health and lives means more than
just keeping reproductive health services legal – it means ensuring
that those services are in fact available to everyone who needs them.”
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The Center worked with its partners in Nepal, Forum for Women, Law, and
Development, to file the case in the Supreme Court in 2006. At the
center of the petition was Nepali citizen Lakshmi Dhikta. Dhikta, who
comes from an extremely poor household in the rural western region of
Nepal, could not afford to pay the fee charged for abortion at a public
hospital and as a result, was forced to continue an unintended
pregnancy. The Center filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of
the case and Upreti, also from Nepal, joined as a petitioner.
According to the World Disasters Report, neo-natal and maternal
mortality claim twenty-five times more lives each year than the lives
claimed yearly in Nepal’s decade-long conflict. Complications from
unsafe abortion are estimated to account for 20 percent of maternal
deaths in health facilities alone—not counting the women who never make
it to a hospital. An abortion in a government hospital can cost more
than the average monthly salary, and 80 percent of rural women are not
even aware that abortion is legal.