Reproductive rights

I had just started working at a health institution, and one day I had to deal with an abortion case. It was a police case, I was told. The young lady was bleeding. She was pale and weak. Needless to say, she looked extremely depressed. I took the history. She was raped by a family member when her husband was away from the country for employment.

The perpetrator had fled after knowing that she had become pregnant. Some of her friends suggested that she could use some “homemade medicines and instruments” to abort the baby. The attempt not only failed, it also made her criminal.

I strongly believe in discipline and strong family relationship. Of course, women must be careful and disciplined. Nevertheless, women are vulnerable. They are at risk of sexual abuse in public places, society and even family.

That’s why abortion should be legal – to save lives of many a young girl and woman who are subjected to sexual harassment and rape. I myself believe abortion in general should be avoided, but when special situations arise – when women are raped and are forced to face social, economic, physical and mental challenges because of unwanted pregnancy as a result of that – they should have the right to decide to go for abortion.

In this context, we need to understand the reproductive rights of women. Reproductive rights are human rights.

In our society, women are continuously put under pressure. The family decides when a woman should give birth to a child and how many children she should give birth to. Why can’t a woman choose when she wants to give birth to a child?

Unwanted pregnancy has to be managed by counselling and psychological and economic and social support. The government must arrange for counselling centres for victims. There is also a need for massive campaigns to make women aware of their reproductive rights.

Abortion is legal in Nepal with some conditions. Abortion is allowed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for any woman on her request, and within 18 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and incest. Abortion is allowed at any time if the pregnancy poses danger to the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or the foetus is seriously deformed and it is recommended by a doctor.

But many women in Nepal are still not aware of this.