Court Orders Nepal to Improve Women’s Access to Abortion

Government must set up abortion fund and promote availability of abortion services

New York—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.”

The Center worked with its partners in Nepal, Forum for Women, Law, and Development, to file the case in the Supreme Court in 2007. 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.