Nepal stands out in South Asia for being one of the few countries with a liberal abortion law. Safe and legal abortions are available unconditionally in the first trimester, and offered in the second trimester to preserve the physical and mental wellbeing of a woman, and in the case of incest or rape.
But history shows that Nepal did not always have such liberal attitudes towards women who needed abortion. In fact, until 2002, the procedure was banned and criminalized in the country. If women were reported to have had abortions, they could be imprisoned for a year or two at least, and sometimes even for life.
But a series of studies undertaken in the 1990s showed that Nepal had a very high maternal mortality rate (870 deaths per 100,000 live births) – one of the highest in South Asia. A large reason for this was unsafe abortion. Women’s rights activists, advocates for safe abortion, health care providers, civil societies and others took this issue up with the government of the country, and in 2002 a law was passed to decriminalize abortion.
Since decriminalization Nepal has reduced its maternal mortality by 78%. Six days from today Nepal will celebrate the tenth anniversary of this historic law. The Asia Safe Abortion Partnership has documented this journey in a series of videos.
The first of the series is an interview with Dr. Anand Tamang, director of the Center for Research on Environmental health and Population Activities in Nepal. CREHPA conducted some landmark studies on unsafe abortion in the 1990s. In the short video Dr. Tamang talks about what he learned during the course of his research.
We’ll be bringing more videos to you over the next week to discuss the process of decriminalization, the challenges then and the barriers that still persist.