Around 1,500 Nepali women died from pregnancy-related complications in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. Seven percent of them (105 women) would have died due to unsafe abortion. That so many women in Nepal are still dying from unsafe abortion, even though abortion was legalized in the country way back in 2002, speaks volumes about the level of awareness among Nepali women. According to Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (2011), only 38 percent of women in Nepal know about the legal status of abortion. Subsequent surveys show that nearly half of Nepali women are still unaware that abortion is legal. Even when women do know that the practice is legal, they may not know when it is safe to terminate their pregnancy, or that it is still illegal to procure abortion-related drugs without prescription. Only the pregnancies that are eight weeks or less can be safety terminated. Moreover, when abortion pills are consumed without close medical supervision, there can be grave side-effects, like incessant vaginal bleeding that can even lead to death. This is why it has become so important to better inform our girls and women on abortion and what they should and should not do.
But it is not just a matter of their education and awareness. There are so many unsafe abortions in Nepal because our society still penalizes unwed motherhood, as these young mothers are virtually ostracized by the rest of the society should their pregnancies come to light. They seem to be in a bind. On the one hand they don’t want children born out of wedlock but on the other they are also afraid of what they might do to their health if they terminate their pregnancy. As they struggle to make up their minds, the fetus inside them grows and reaches a stage when the pregnancy can no longer be hidden. It is then that they resort to desperate measures like popping an abortion pill, which, even though it is outlawed in Nepal, can be easily procured from a medical store. If only the over-the-counter sell of abortion drugs could be effectively banned, say gynecologists, there could be a drastic reduction in the number of abortion-related deaths. But that will be of no comfort to pregnant women who don’t want babies but also can’t access safe and affordable abortion services.
Most abortion-related deaths are reported from rural areas where awareness is dismally low but discriminations against unwed mothers unusually high. Unless women from these areas are better informed and unless they can access safe abortion services in a discrimination-free environment, they will continue to rely on dangerous means to terminate their pregnancy. So the trick is to reduce the demand for these illegal services. For example if women know that they will not be judged for their reproductive choices, and that they have the freedom over their own bodies, they will no longer have to rely on underhand ways to end their pregnancy. But are we as a society mature enough to let our women make the decisions that affect them the most, in the manner of their choosing?