Nepal’s Supreme Court Orders Access to Legal Abortion Services
(Updated 3.18.21) Nepal’s Supreme Court concluded that the government must guarantee access to safe and affordable abortion services. The court ordered Nepal to adopt a comprehensive abortion law establishing a national fund for abortion costs, ensuring stronger safeguards for women’s privacy, promoting access to safe services for all women, and widely disseminating information about safe abortion services to health service providers and the public.
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—had prevented women from accessing safe abortion services.
An abortion in a public hospital in Nepal can cost more than the average monthly salary and 80 percent of rural women are unaware that abortion is legal. Lakshmi, unable to afford the fee, was forced to continue an unintended pregnancy.
On February 22, 2007, Lakshmi, along with the Center’s Nepalese partners and individual attorneys, filed Lakshmi v. Nepal before Nepal’s Supreme Court, arguing that the government had failed to implement its abortion law. This failure rendered legal and safe abortion largely inaccessible to most of the nation’s women. In addition to playing a crucial role in the development and execution of the litigation strategy for this case, the Center filed an amicus brief.
The lawsuit charged that this was 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.
In 2009, 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. Under the Court’s ruling, the government must set up a fund to cover the cost of abortion for poor and rural women, invest enough resources to meet the demand for abortion services, promote access to safe services for all women, ensure stronger safeguards for women’s privacy, and educate the public and health service providers about the existing abortion law.
In September 2018, government of Nepal enacted umbrella legislation, Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act, as directed by the Supreme Court verdict. The implementing regulation under the Act—Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Regulation—was also passed in October 2020.
Plaintiff(s): Melissa Upreti, among other individuals, including Lakshmi
Center Attorney(s): Melissa Upreti
Partners: FWLD (Forum for Women, Law and Development) and others
- Lakshmi v. Government of Nepal: CRR Memo to Supreme Court of Nepal
- Court Orders Nepal to Improve Women’s Access to Abortion
- Supreme Court of Nepal Decision: Lakshmi v. Government of Nepal
Books & Reports