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09.25.09 - Seven years ago this month, on September 27, 2002, Nepal took a historic step forward for women by decriminalizing abortion. The Center is now calling on the country to take concrete steps to fulfill its commitment to women's human rights and health.
Since 2002, Nepali women have had the legal right to abortion upon request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Other legal breakthroughs soon followed. In January 2007, Nepal became the first country in the region to recognize reproductive rights as constitutionally protected fundamental rights.
And just this past May, the country's Supreme Court ordered the government to guarantee access to safe and affordable abortion services for women, through a new comprehensive abortion law and a public fund to cover the cost of abortions for women who cannot afford to pay.
The Supreme Court made the ruling in response to a case brought by the Center and its Nepali partners in 2007, Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal. As our lawsuit showed, multiple barriers continue to prevent Nepali women from accessing safe abortion services. These include prohibitive costs, lack of information, and lack of skilled abortion providers. Health services also tend to be concentrated in city centers, depriving rural women of access. Many continue to be victimized by unscrupulous, illegal providers.
Nepali Government Must Guarantee Reproductive Healthcare
The government must invest more in women's health and ensure comprehensive reproductive healthcare is available nationwide and provided for free when needed.
In addition to safe abortion services, women also need family planning and maternal healthcare. Less than half of Nepali women of reproductive age use modern contraception.
Less than 20% of all women are attended by a skilled health professional, and unsurprisingly, one Nepali woman dies from usually avoidable pregnancy-related complications every four hours. Complications from unsafe abortion are estimated to account for 25% of maternal deaths in health facilities alone-not including those women who never reach a hospital.
If Nepal fails to invest in women's reproductive health, its attempts to achieve the Millennium Developments Goals by 2015 will be undermined.
But more importantly, Nepali women will continue to suffer and die needlessly. It is well past time for Nepal to fulfill the promise of the 2002 legal reforms and ensure that every woman's human right to autonomy, health, and life is indeed protected.
Some Facts:Less than half of Nepali women of reproductive age use modern contraception.
Only 19% of all births are attended by skilled health persons.
One Nepali woman dies from usually avoidable pregnancy-related complications every four hours.
Complications from unsafe abortion are estimated to account for 25% of maternal deaths in health facilities alone--not including those women who never reach a hospital.