Nepal to provide free abortion services at public health facilities
In a major step forward for women’s access to safe abortion care, the government of Nepal recently announced that abortion services will be available free of charge at public health facilities. Abortion has been legal in Nepal since 2002 and is available in all 75 districts, but cost has been one of the key barriers preventing many women from getting services.
“This is a breakthrough for safe abortion care in Nepal,” says Dirgha Raj Shrestha, Ipas Nepal acting country manager. “The fees the government has been charging for services have been a barrier for too many women—especially for poor, marginalized, adolescent and hard-to-reach women.”
Women’s health and reproductive rights organizations, including Ipas, had advocated for the policy change, which was announced last month by the Minister of Finance. “It was a collective effort by partner organizations,” according to Madhabi Bajracharya, Ipas Nepal program advisor. “Our advocacy has paid off, and we are proud that we have helped to ensure the reproductive health and rights of women in Nepal.”
Ipas is now working with the Ministry of Health and Population and other government officials to ensure that free services become a reality. A working group has been formed to develop implementation guidelines and set budgets for covering supplies and other costs.
Prior to 2002, abortion was illegal in Nepal; the legal code essentially equated abortion with homicide and unsafe abortion contributed in large measure to maternal deaths. In the years since, Ipas and other groups have worked with the government to expand safe abortion care across Nepal. There now are 832 public and private sites across the country where women can obtain abortions. Based on findings in eight districts, this expansion of care helped Nepal nearly halve its maternal mortality ratio in the decade between 2002 and 2012.
But, says Shrestha, even with the announcement of free care at government facilities, challenges remain. “We still need to work hard to implement the program in such a way that all women get free, safe abortion services,” he says. “What we want to hear is that no woman in Nepal has to leave a health facility without getting services due to cost or any other barriers.”
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