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05.20.09 - In late 2005, the Center began a partnership with FWLD to develop two public interest cases on reproductive rights. One was Lakshmi Dhikta v. Government of Nepal, filed as a public interest case under the new constitutional provision on February 22, 2007.
Filing date: 2/22/07
Plaintiff(s): Melissa Upreti, among other individuals, including Lakshmi Dhikta
Center Attorney(s): Melissa Upreti
Summary: Although abortion has been legal in Nepal since 2002, Lakshmi Dhikta was unable to obtain one. 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. As a result, she was forced to continue an unintended pregnancy.
On May 20, 2009, Nepal's Supreme Court called for ground-breaking government action to secure women's access to safe abortion in a case brought by Dhikta.
On February 22, 2007, Dhikta, along with the Center’s Nepalese partners--including the Forum for Women, Law, and Development, the Women Victims Legal Aid Clinic at Kathmandu School of Law, the Forum for Protection of Public Interest (Pro-Public)--and individual attorneys, filed Lakshmi Dhitka v. Nepal before Nepal’s Supreme Court, arguing that the government has failed to implement its abortion law. This failure renders legal and safe abortion largely inaccessible to most of the nation’s women. The Center filed an amicus brief.
The lawsuit charges that this is a violation of Nepal’s human rights obligations under international treaties, as well as its own interim constitution, which recognizes a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions and obtain reproductive health services.
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. The consequences have been grim: an estimated 4,000 women die from unsafe abortion every year.
Indeed, complications from unsafe abortion are estimated to account for 25% of all maternal deaths in health facilities alone—not including those women who never reach a hospital. This is almost twice the worldwide yearly ratio, where complications from unsafe abortion account for about13% of maternal deaths.
The measures ordered by Nepal's Supreme Court include adopting a comprehensive abortion law; establishing a government fund to cover abortion procedure costs; ensuring stronger safeguards for women’s privacy; promoting access to safe services for all women; and disseminating information about safe abortion services to health service providers and the public.
“This is one of the most important legal victories for women in Nepal in almost a decade,” stated Melissa Upreti, the Center’s regional manager and legal adviser for Asia.
“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.”
A Nepalese citizen, Upreti also joined the case as a co-petitioner.
In 2008, Nepal's Supreme Court dismissed a case that had aimed to overturn the country's abortion law.