Global day of action for access to safe and legal abortion

Marie Stopes Nepal

1 September 2016


Diverse Actions, Different Places, One Demand: Access to Safe & Legal Abortion NOW!

September 28 has been a regional campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Latin America and Caribbean for over twenty years before being taken on by SRHR activists all over the world in 2011. Marie Stopes Nepal undertakes September 28 annual campaigning activities in collaboration with its members, partners, and allies around the world, and as a member of the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion.

Nepal’s first legal document Muluki Ain was introduced in 1854. In all other cases, the law equated pregnancy termination with homicide until 1963, when the act banned abortion except when the woman’s life was at risk. Back then women were prosecuted and sent to prison under charges of infanticide. Up to one-fifth of women in Nepali prisons before 2002 were convicted on the basis of illegal abortion.

In 1994, the abortion rate in Nepal was estimated at 117 per 100,000 women; all of which were concealed and many were unsafe. This reliance on abortion occurred in the context of high fertility and low contraceptive use. Before 2002, Nepal’s maternal mortality ratio was among the highest in the world with a large proportion of deaths attributed to unsafe abortion along with abortion-related morbidity; one hospital-based study of obstetric complications found that 53.7% of admissions were attributable to clandestine abortion.

In the late 1980s, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and technical assistance from the international non-governmental organization (NGO) JHPIEGO, the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) began improving the quality and availability of post-abortion care (emergency treatment of complications of unsafe abortion linked to post-abortion contraception and other reproductive health services). Over time, growing awareness of the negative impact of unsafe abortion on women’s health and lives, and of access to safe abortion as fundamental to women’s rights and maternal health goals, fostered multi-sectoral support for reform of Nepal’s restrictive abortion law. Advocacy efforts, led by the MOHP, culminated in 2002 with passage of the Muluki Ain 11th Amendment Bill, a gender equality bill containing language liberalizing access to abortion.

In March 2002, the Nepali Parliament passed a breakthrough legislation contrary to its abortion law. Under the new Abortion Policy 2002, the government granted women legal access to abortion, which came into effect in 2003. Women are permitted abortion for up to 12 weeks of gestation on request and under certain medical/legal conditions.

Specifications of Nepal’s 2002 Abortion Law.

Pregnancy termination is available under these circumstances:

  • Up to 12 weeks gestation for any indication, by request.
  • Up to 18 weeks gestation in the case of rape or incest.
  • At any time during pregnancy if mental/physical health or life of the pregnant woman is at risk (approval from a medical practitioner required)
  • At any time during pregnancy if the fetus is deformed and incompatible with life (approval from a medical practitioner required)

Additional considerations:

  • Only providers certified in safe abortion care are eligible to provide induced abortion services; The pregnant woman alone has the right to choose to continue or discontinue pregnancy In the case of minors (< 16 years of age) or mental incompetence, a legal guardian must give consent.
  • Pregnancy termination on the basis of sex selection is prohibited.

To guide implementation of the law, in February 2002, the MOHP’s Family Health Division (FHD) created the Abortion Task Force (ATF), comprising the Nepal Society of Gynaecology & Obstetricians (NESOG), the Centre for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities (CREHPA), German Technical Assistance (GTZ) and Ipas. Many organizations and individuals on the task force had also been involved in advocacy for legal reform, as well as in Safe Motherhood efforts led by Options and funded primarily by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID).

However, only 38% of women are aware of legal status of abortion in Nepal according to National Demographic Health Survey- 2011. Abortion-related stigma is one of the primary factors that places safe, legal and accessible abortion care and services out of reach for individuals worldwide. It largely draws its strength from gender stereotypes used to deny individuals access to abortion, particularly the stereotype ascribing women to the role of motherhood. This stereotype implies that women "should prioritize childbearing and child rearing overall other roles they might perform or choose. As a result, abortion stigma and gender stereotypes, which in some cases are exacerbated by religious fundamentalism, negatively impact the way a given society perceives abortion, as well as those who seek or have had an abortion, those who work in abortion care, and those who actively support abortion rights.

This year Marie Stopes Nepal is heading hand in hand with other global organization to celebrate September 28 as Global Day of Action For Access To Safe and Legal Abortion to debunk the abortion stigma and gender stereotypes.

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