Fact Sheet: Nepal Supreme Court’s Landmark Decision Upholding the Right to Abortion

The Center has authored a new fact sheet on an important decision from the Supreme Court of Nepal in the case of Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal that upholds a woman’s right to abortion. This case was decided in May 2009 and the full decision was published just this year.

The landmark decision, issued orally in May 2009, ordered the Nepalese government to secure women's access to safe and affordable abortion services through a comprehensive abortion law and the creation of a government fund that would cover the cost of abortions for those unable to pay.

The recently published written decision not only reaffirms the government’s obligation to guarantee safe and affordable access to abortion services for all women, but also recognizes the right to abortion as an inseparable part of women’s reproductive rights. The Court acknowledges Nepal’s human rights obligations under international law, as well as under its own interim constitution, and recognizes a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.

This is the first time a court has held a government responsible for the failure to ensure affordable abortion services.    

Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal, was filed before Nepal’s Supreme Court on February 22, 2007, by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), in collaboration with several co-petitioners. It challenged the Nepalese government’s failure to ensure adequate access to safe abortion services despite the decriminalization of abortion on broad grounds in 2002. 

The central petitioner in the case was Lakshmi, a poor, rural woman who decided to have an abortion when she became pregnant for the sixth time. Despite its legality, Lakshmi was unable to obtain an abortion procedure due to exorbitant costs. Instead, she was forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy, further aggravating both her impoverished state and her health.

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, forced pregnancy both constitutes and precipitates a myriad of human rights violations, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Center played a crucial role in the development and execution of the litigation strategy for this case. This case is a direct result of the first training conducted by the Center on reproductive rights litigation in Nepal, in collaboration with FWLD in 2006. In addition to working with FWLD to develop the legal claims, the Center submitted a separate brief citing international and comparative law and jurisprudence in support of the case. Melissa Upreti, Regional Director for Asia, was a co-petitioner in the case.

The Center and FWLD are leading efforts to implement the Supreme Court’s decision.

Read the Center’s fact sheet.

Read the Center’s report Abortion in Nepal: Women Imprisoned.