Unsafe abortion continues unabated

Rupandehi, January 4

Abortion has been legalised in Nepal since March 2002 and in normal cases, abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation, with the consent of pregnant women, is allowed. In special cases, it is allowed up to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

However, abortion is still considered a stigma in Nepali society. Of those women undergoing abortion, 58 per cent chose unsafe procedure, according to data published by various organisations working in the reproductive health rights sector.

Though forced abortion is prohibited by law and is punishable, it is widely practised in the country. Coercing a pregnant woman, threatening, enticing or tempting her to abort is unlawful. Abortion must be performed as per the will and consent of the pregnant woman, but many factors, including social mores, are compelling women to undergo forced abortion. Preference for sons is a leading cause for forced abortion, according to experts on women’s health.

According to Laxman KC, who works for a non government organisation, a large section of people are unaware about availability of safe abortion facilities at health institutions, with the help of trained or licensed health practitioners. Only 41 per cent women of reproductive age have knowledge that abortion is legal in Nepal, according to KC.

Use of medicines without prescription of trained health workers and use of unprescribed procedure may lead to health complications, he said, addressing mediapersons. “There is high possibility of heavy bleeding following unsafe abortion. Therefore, it must be performed under the supervision of doctors,” said Madhavi Bajracharya of the organisation. Though legalisation of abortion has contributed to rising awareness of safe abortion to some extent, the results are not as expected, Bajracharya said.

Data with the NGO, Ipas Nepal revealed that during fiscal 2018-2019, as many as 17,312 women underwent safe abortion. This number was 18,763 in the previous fiscal.

As many 2,628 women had visited hospitals following health complications stemming from unsafe abortion in the current fiscal. This number was 3,306 in the previous fiscal year.

Sometimes even safe abortion may lead to health issues and 1,855 had sought follow-up medical support for the same causes so far this year.

A total of 264 health facilities have been listed for providing safe abortion facilities in Province 5. Of those who underwent abortion, 11.98 per cent were below 20 years of age and remaining 88.02 were above 20.

Unwillingness to use contraceptives and misunderstanding that use of family planning devices will cause health complications are also causes for unwanted pregnancies and abortion is the sole option for terminating unwanted foetus, claimed Women, Law and Development Forum’s provincial Coordinator Narendra Basyal.

He stressed the need to raise awareness of safe abortion in every household, school and community instead of just investing in free abortion services, to address the problem of rampant unsafe abortion. “Even urban and educated women and adolescents lack proper knowledge of availability of safe abortion services in the country,” he said.

Abortion is still stigmatised in society that’s why there is need to seek alternatives to safe facilities, otherwise, it ultimately results in bodily harms,” he added.

Ipas Nepal’s country director Dr Popular Gentle said the media’s role was vital for increasing people’s access to safe abortion and promoting women’s reproductive rights.

The Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act-2018 has been in force to respect, protect and ensure women’s rights related to safe motherhood and reproductive health by making safe motherhood and reproductive health services safe, accessible and of standard.

The act has provisioned that a pregnant woman shall have the right to safe abortion. It has ensured termination of foetus of up to twelve weeks, with the consent of the pregnant woman.

Termination of foetus of twenty-eight weeks is also allowed as per the consent of the woman and the opinion of a licensed doctor stating that there may be danger to the life of the pregnant woman or her physical or mental health may deteriorate or a disabled infant may be born if the abortion is not performed.

In case of rape or incest, termination of foetus of up to 28 weeks is allowed by the law with the consent of the pregnant woman. Likewise, abortion also applies to a foetus of up to twenty-eight weeks, with the consent of the woman suffering from HIV or other incurable diseases.