Do Legal Professionals in Nepal Believe Abortion Is A Woman’s Right?

Abortion was a criminal offense in Nepal until 2002. The earlier prohibition of abortion in Nepal that criminalized abortion violated women’s right to equality and non-discrimination and contradicted the commitment articulated in CEDAW. The evidence through various studies also showed disproportionate conviction and penalization of women from low-income and rural families thereby again highlighting the discriminatory practices under the previous law.

Further, the law mentioned that pregnancy could be terminated for the purpose of welfare.” This condition was ambiguous and open to interpretation at every stage. Law enforcement officials could interpret the law differently. In many cases law enforcement officials treated these as cases of infanticide. The implications were severe. While a woman charged with abortion was officially punishable up to three years in prison, infanticide warranted a penalty up to 20 years.

Attitudes:

A senior advocate with three decades of legal practice in Criminal and Civil law was categorical in his criticism of abortion law.

He said, “No, it is not relevant in the Hindu country like ours. It has made women wild.The moral aspect of women has decreased. It has a negative impact on the health and the morality of our women.”

Abortion as Women’s Right:

Five respondents said that this was a social justice, public heath & women’s right issue. The remaining merely talked of women’s rights. While elaborating on why they thought
so, the respondents explained that it is a rights issue because it deals with right to life of the fetus, gender, sex ratio, women’s reproductive health, and increase in population.
It appears that the questions related to rights and autonomy weren’t clearly understood.

However, all female respondents were of the opinion that abortion laws were to be viewed as an achievement in terms of women’s rights. Similarly all of them agreed that the woman had a right to her own body:

“The fetus which has not been born, not seen the world but the woman is an individual who exists. The rights of that woman should be prioritized as the fetus depends upon that woman. If the woman doesn’t want to keep the fetus, it is her right. Rights of the woman are a priority. Other are secondary rights”, said a female advocate.

Discussion:

The legalization of abortion with more explicit terms and conditions was a welcome step and well in line with the stated policy statements and commitments to international agreements. However, the awareness about specifics of the law amongst the law enforcement officials is a cause of concern. The judgmental attitude is an even more serious worry.

Read the Complete Paper here: http://asap-asia.org/publications/2009/Nepal_Abortion_Booklet_Update.pdf

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About Suchitra Dalvie

Suchitra Dalvie is the Coordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and a Steering Committee Member for CommonHealth. She is a strong believer in women's rights to safe abortion and has worked in promoting the cause for over 10 years. She is also a practicing Gynecologist.
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