Nepal bests U.S. for safe abortion access

Legalizing the procedure -- and nationalizing a model of care -- appears to have saved lives.

By Lynn Harris

Published June 27, 2007 7:19PM (EDT)

Nepal before 2002: With one of the world's strictest abortion laws -- outlawing the procedure entirely, and jail time for those even suspected of terminating a pregnancy -- Nepal had one of Asia's highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths. According to estimates, more than half of obstetric/gynecological hospital admissions were linked to complications from abortion. And in 2000, up to one-fifth of incarcerated women were said to be in jail for having sought an abortion.

Cut to today. Five years after Nepal's Parliament voted to allow abortion under most circumstances up to 18 weeks' gestation, international reproductive-rights organization Ipas reports that maternal mortality has plummeted. Dr. B.K. Subedi, director of Nepal's Family Health Division, "has said that availability and use of safe abortion care might be one of the factors in the significant decrease." The government, working with Ipas, has created an abortion-care model that "includes pre- and postabortion counseling as well as provision of contraceptives to prevent repeat unwanted pregnancies, throughout the country," Ipas reports. "As of December 2006, 71 of Nepal's 75 districts, even those in relatively remote regions, have trained abortion providers -- a remarkable achievement of a national training program." Indeed. Compare and contrast: Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties lack abortion providers.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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