Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world and due to remote areas and topographical barriers, delivery of medical services and supplies is difficult. Despite this, pregnancy-related deaths have been cut in half over the past decade. This figure is especially remarkable, considering the rate of decline worldwide is only 1 percent a year over the last ten years. So what has changed in Nepal?
To start, Nepal legalized abortion in September of 2002. Abortion had been illegal even in cases of rape or incest. Unsafe abortions were responsible for a large percentage of maternal deaths, as women were forced to seek them underground.
Secondly, organizations such as the Family Planning Association of Nepal have worked closely with the Nepal government to provide reproductive health services and educational initiatives. The death rate has been reduced by providing women with iron supplements that help to prevent anemia, as well as educating women about birth control and family planning.
Additionally, women are now encouraged to have children later in life and to space births farther apart. Early marriage is common in Nepal (average age is 18), resulting in childbirth at an early age. Delaying childbirth reduces the number of lifetime pregnancies and ultimately reduces the number of maternal deaths.
With all of the successes for reproductive health services and freedom in Nepal, the most frustrating piece to this is that our government has actually impeded progress! The Global Gag Rule , re-instated by President Bush on his FIRST FULL DAY IN OFFICE, prohibits U.S. overseas development assistance for family planning from being provided to NGOs that use funding from any other source to perform abortion. “Assistance” includes funds, commodities such as contraceptives, technical assistance, and training (USAID, 2001).
Ironically, this senseless attack on reproductive freedom has increased unintended pregnancies, as the valuable services provided by many NGOs have been eliminated due to a loss of funding. To learn more about where Planned Parenthood works internationally and what they're doing to fight the Global Gag Rule, click here.