In the Wake of Liberalisation – Ongoing challenges for abortion services in rural Nepal
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Nepal changed its abortion law in 2002 from being highly restrictive to fully liberal. This study aims to explore ongoing challenges for unmarried Nepalese women who wish to utilise their legal right to abortion. Focus is on social awareness of women’s legal right to abortion, understanding of unmarried women’s access to safe abortion services, communal attitudes towards these women having abortions, and how to bridge a gap between law and attitude so that they harmonise better.
A total of 96 structured questionnaires and 16 semi-structured interviews were collected and conducted in the Makwanpur District, Nepal. All study participants were Nepalese men and women above the age of consent. A total of 55 questionnaire responses were univariate analysed while a condensation of meaning analysis was carried out on the semi-structured interviews.
The community was overall aware of abortion being legal in Nepal although awareness of the specific legal conditions varied. It was believed that unmarried women could access safe abortion services on equal terms with married women though unmarried women risked questioning by health personnel. Overall, the attitude towards unmarried women having abortions was more negative than towards married women, and especially men expressed strong negative views. Generally, it was difficult to separate attitudes towards unmarried women having abortions from them being sexually active. The perception was that it would be difficult to change these views but that education to the whole community on abortion could lead to better harmonisation.
Compared to married women, unmarried women face more challenges when utilising safe abortion services in the Makwanpur District, especially due to negative attitudes towards premarital sexual activity and abortions. Unmarried women constitute a vulnerable group that risk stigmatisation and discrimination of their right to health. Further studies should be undertaken to help Nepal become aware if this situation holds in other areas of Nepal, and if education is a realistic way to help the country implement social change in relation to its law, improve the health of women, and meet its commitments to ICESCR, CEDAW, and ICPD.