In a huge step forward for women’s rights in Nepal, the King of Nepal recently signed a bill that officially legalizes abortion, makes sexual abuse against children a crime and allows women to inherit property from their parents. Under the provisions of the 11th Amendment Bill, abortion in Nepal is now legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 18 weeks in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment or to protect a woman’s health.
The passage of this new law was due to the efforts of Nepalese women’s advocacy organizations that worked to raise public awareness about women’s roles in society, according to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. Before now, abortion was illegal in Nepal – women were sent to prison for the crime of abortion. While the new law is a victory for Nepalese women, it does not help the women who are currently in prison for having abortions.
Nepal has the fourth highest maternal death rate in the world - 539 out of 100,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications. The United Nations estimates that 50 percent of these women die from illegal abortions. The global gag rule - reinstated by President Bush in January 2001 to prohibit non-governmental organizations funded by the US from performing abortions - may hinder the provision of much-needed safe abortion services in Nepal. Many of the organizations serving poor and rural women will face a tough decision between accepting US funds and meeting this particular health need.