In a victory for Nepalese women, the Lower House of Parliament amended the Nepalese Civil Code to legalize abortion in the first trimester, in cases of rape or incest, or to protect a woman’s health. Nepal’s king must now sign the legislation for the new laws to take affect.
Nepal has the fourth highest maternal death rate in the world. In the U.S., only 7 women out of 100,000 die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. In Nepal, however, 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. Six women die every day in Nepal from illegal abortions.
The global gag rule, however, may hinder the provision of much-needed safe abortion services in Nepal. Many organizations serving poor and rural women will face a tough decision between accepting U.S. funds and meeting this particular health need. President Bush re-instated the gag rule, a U.S. policy that prevents family planning programs receiving U.S. funds from providing, counseling, or promoting abortion even if these activities are funded with separate monies, in January 2001.