As the only global legal advocacy group dedicated to the advancement of reproductive rights worldwide, the Center set a goal several years ago to establish a strong presence in the places where we battle for women’s health, equality, and dignity.
Today, we establish a stronghold in Kathmandu, Nepal, home of one of our proudest moments and an ideal location from which we can anchor our efforts to establish and strengthen reproductive rights throughout Asia. This office reaffirms our commitment to translating constitutional and legal protections into real change for women throughout this region and across the globe.
Over the past decade, Nepal has proved to be fertile ground for reform and progress. Just 12 years ago, it had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Ending a pregnancy was a criminal act, and the country was rife with unsafe, illegal abortions, accounting for half of all maternal deaths.
But the government amended the Country Code to decriminalize abortion. A few years later, in 2006, the government adopted an interim constitution that established reproductive rights as fundamental human rights.
Then, in 2010, the Center and its partners won a landmark case in Nepal’s Supreme Court on behalf of a woman named Lakshmi Dhikta. She and her husband already had five children when she became pregnant with a sixth. The pregnancy would endanger Lakshmi’s health and be financially ruinous for the family, so they decided to have an abortion.
While the abortion would have been legal, the cost of the procedure at the state run hospital was beyond the impoverished couple’s reach. Lakshmi had no choice but to have another child.
Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will was a violation of her human rights. Further, the court established a positive obligation on the government to cover the cost of critical reproductive health services for any woman who could not afford it.
The opening of this office builds on the momentum of that groundbreaking decision. Our team in Nepal will lead the work necessary to ensure that that the progress the Center and its partners have put into motion over the past few years continues to reduce the number of unsafe abortions, ensure that women survive pregnancy and childbirth, and expand access to the full range of reproductive health care throughout Asia.