NEPAL: US policy threatens abortion law reform

Issue 

On average, almost six women die each day from unsafe abortions in Nepal and those that are lucky enough to survive back-alley procedures then risk life imprisonment.

Under current laws, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of woman is threatened by the pregnancy. One-in-five Nepalese women in prison are jailed for abortion-related offences. However, proposed law changes are under threat.

A legislative bill is being discussed in Nepal that contains an amendment that would legalise abortion under certain conditions. The amendment would allow women who have been the victims of rape or incest to have an abortion up to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. When the life or health of the mother is in danger, or in cases of foetal deformity, an abortion could be performed at anytime during pregnancy. A married woman can have an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only with the consent of the husband.

"The proposed amendment is plagued by vague language", said Melissa Upreti, a staff attorney with the US-based Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy organisation (CRLP). "It does not define the right of unmarried women to have abortions or who is qualified to provide abortions. The consent requirements go against international standards on women's rights and could force more women to seek clandestine abortions."

However, even such a weak law reform is being threatened by the US President George Bush's administration's "global gag rule", said Upreti. Under US policy, organisations that provide reproductive health services and receive funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) risk losing their funding if they lobby the Nepalese government to reform its abortion laws.

The Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) will forfeit its nearly US$250,000 of USAID funding, its executive director Dr Nirmal K. Bista told a recent US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "We [FPAN] simply could not stand by and watch countless women suffer and die without doing everything we could to prevent this misery", said Bista.

"Even if the law passes, if more groups like FPAN are forced to forfeit their funds there may not be enough women's reproductive health organisations with the money to support safe abortion services for women", noted Upreti.

[From Reproductive Freedom News <http://www.crlp.org>.]

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