Six Nepalese women die each day from botched illegal abortions according to Panos, an international non-profit organization focusing on the developing world. In October 2001, the Nepalese Lower House of Parliament voted, however, to legalize first trimester abortions and make abortion within 18-weeks of pregnancy legal in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the health of the woman. After four months, though, the National Assembly of Parliament has yet to approve the bill. Abortion rights supporters are now stepping up efforts to get the bill passed, but the struggle is an uphill one.
In addition to challenges faced within the Nepalese government, abortion rights supporters, often associated with family planning clinics, must also overcome the global gag rule, a U.S. policy that prevents clinics receiving U.S. funds from providing, counseling, or promoting abortion even if these activities are funded with separate monies. The Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) and the Center for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities (CREHPA) have both refused U.S. funds in order to support liberalizing Nepalese abortion laws. According to FPAN Director Dr. Nirmal K. Bista, if he had accepted U.S. funds, “I would be prevented from speaking in my own country…about a healthcare crisis I know first hand.” FPAN lost $250,000 in U.S. funds because of its decision, but Bista is continuing to spread his message. In addition, CREHPA has formed a committee, at the urging of the Nepalese Ministry of Health, to advise the government on measures to end unsafe abortion. Anand Tamang, Director of CREHPA, however predicts, “The global gag rule will [continue to] have a chilling effect as it will discourage NGOs receiving U.S. funds from assisting the Ministry of Health in Sade Motherhood activities, such as public education and advocacy on the proposed abortion law.”
Nepal has the fourth highest maternal death rate in the world. 539 women of reproductive age out of 100,000 die each year from pregnancy-related complications, and the United Nations estimates that 50 percent of these women die from illegal abortions. Desperate women have submitted to abortions performed using sticks or shards of glass, among other horrific methods. Up to 60 percent of women admitted to OB/GYN wards in a Kathmandu hospital suffer from post-botched abortion complications, including hemorrhaging, gangrene, and sepsis. Many of these women will also face criminal charges. A 1997 study showed that 1 in 5 female prisoners in Nepal were imprisoned for abortion.
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