Decrminalise abortion: Rights activists

The Morning Mails

Decrminalise abortion: Rights activists

Article 38(2) of the constitution ensures the right of every woman to safe motherhood and reproductive health thereby acknowledging the right to safe abortion as part of reproductive health right, but in practice, women have not been able to enjoy this right, due to criminalisation of abortion and a number of restrictive measures. Executive Director of Forum for Women, Law and Development Sabin Shrestha said Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act, which was brought to enable women to enjoy their reproductive health rights, conversely prohibited abortion after 28 weeks of pregnancy. "If a woman is prohibited from ending her pregnancy when her life is in danger, that law cannot be just," he added. Shrestha said the CEDAW recommendation in 2018 had urged the government to allow women to terminate pregnancy if their life was in danger. "In the 2021 UPR review, France urged Nepal to decriminalise abortion and our government accepted the proposal," he added.

It has, however, not amended laws related to women's reproductive health rights. Prabhakar Shrestha, Senior Legal adviser for Asia, Centre for Reproductive Rights said Nepal's approach to abortion services was flawed as it viewed abortion as a special care issue, thereby requiring service seekers to get service only at listed service centres. Abortion should be fully decriminalised if we want women to enjoy their full reproductive health rights," he argued. Fifty-eight per cent of women seek abortion at facilities other than the listed health centres. "Such women are at high risk of unsafe abortion, which is the third leading cause of maternal deaths," Shrestha added.

He said policies and laws needed to be revised to allow health professionals to provide telemedicine services to women seeking abortion. This will provide not only easy and affordable services to service seekers in remote areas, but also protect their privacy and save time. He said provisions should be made to ensure that service seekers could easily get any of the recommended pills for safe abortion from pharmacies. In the writ of Laxmi et al vs Government of Nepal, the Supreme Court had passed a directive order on 20 May 2009 telling the government to ensure the privacy of women seeking abortion service, to spread awareness against the existing stigma surrounding abortion, and to encourage correct and responsible measures of abortion service delivery. FWLD has filed a petition at the Supreme Court seeking needed changes in laws related to reproductive health rights in which the court has issued a show cause notice to the government.

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