Anniversary of Abortion Decriminalization in Nepal
Today marks the ninth anniversary of the historic 11th Amendment to the Muluki Ain, Nepal Country Code, that decriminalized abortion in Nepal.
The decriminalization of abortion in Nepal in 2002 was a historic moment for a country in which abortion had long been banned by law under all circumstances. Women were routinely imprisoned for obtaining abortions, and many more suffered complications from risking unsafe, illegal abortions to terminate their pregnancies and died. The 2002 11th Amendment to the Muluki Ain amended the criminal ban to permit abortion on request within the first 12 weeks, and in specific circumstances thereafter, but faced large barriers to implementation, leaving many women living in poor and rural areas still unable to access safe and affordable abortions. A lack of awareness of the changes in the law and the prohibitive cost were two crucial barriers faced by women across the country.
Lakshmi Dhikta was one of those women. Upon becoming pregnant for the sixth time, she decided to have an abortion due to her inability to afford to raise another child. Despite the legality of abortion at the time, the government hospitals would not perform one without charging a fee that Lakshmi could not pay. As a result, she was forced to carry the pregnancy to term. The Center and the Forum for Women, Law and Development took her case to the Supreme Court of Nepal, which resulted in a victory that paved the way for the total recognition of abortion as a woman’s human right that is inviolable by and whose responsibility falls on the government. The government is now obligated to pay for an abortion in the event that a pregnant woman cannot bear the cost, and has been instructed to introduce a comprehensive abortion law that will make safe abortion services more widely accessible.
The Center and our partners are fully committed to ensuring that the Supreme Court’s decision is implemented to ensure that women like Lakshmi Dhikta are able to exercise their legal right to abortion. The groundbreaking decision that recognizes the right to abortion as a constitutionally protected fundamental right has been hailed as an example for the rest of the world to follow. While fierce opponents in the U.S. aim to turn back the tide on women’s reproductive rights, Nepalese officials are taking progressive steps towards a more equitable society that respects and upholds women’s health and recognizes their autonomy over their own bodies. We are proud that women in Nepal will now have the opportunity to fully exercise these fundamental rights, and we hope that this decision serves as a powerful precedent for governments around the world.