Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal [ WOC0757,2067 (2007) ]

Country Nepal
Category Right to Health
Date of Judgment 20-05-2009
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  • Description

    Lakshmi Devi Dhikta, a woman from an extremely poor household in the far-western region of Nepal, already had five children when she became pregnant for the sixth time. She and her husband, Udhav, knew that having another child would be financially strenuous and would take a significant toll on Lakshmi’s health, so they requested an abortion at a government hospital. There, they were told that they would have to pay a fee of 1,130 rupees for an abortion. The Dhiktas did not have enough money to pay this fee and Lakshmi had no choice but to continue with the unwanted pregnancy.

    Abortion is legal in Nepal and the country’s constitution recognizes reproductive rights as fundamental rights. However, women like Lakshmi who live in poor and rural areas are often unable to obtain abortions for reasons such as prohibitive fees, physically inaccessible facilities and lack of knowledge of the legal status of abortion.

    More than 105,000 safe abortions have been performed in Nepal since its legalization in 2002. Yet, a national study released in 2006 shows that despite legalization, three quarters of all abortions are still performed in clandestine and informal settings. Another recent study highlights that up to 27% of maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortion.

    Nepal’s recognition of a right to abortion through its decriminalization in 2002 is one of the most notable achievements of human rights advocates since the country’s transition to democracy in 1990. The recognition of women’s reproductive rights as fundamental rights in the Interim Constitution of 2006 further consolidated this right. However, Nepal still faces numerous practical challenges in making this right a reality. The case Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal was filed in Nepal’s Supreme Court on February 22, 2007 as a public interest lawsuit brought by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), Pro-Public and a group of human rights lawyers. The Center for Reproductive Rights provided support in developing the case and drafting the petition, and subsequently submitted a memo to Nepal’s Supreme Court.



  • Judgment

    In a landmark decision issued on May 20, 2009, Nepal’s Supreme Court directed the government – specifically the Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health and Population, the Ministry of Law, Justice, and Constituent Assembly Affairs, and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare – to enact a comprehensive law and to take several necessary measures to guarantee women’s right to safe abortion services.

    The Court ruled that women face obstacles that obstruct their access to safe abortion services. It instructed the government to take the following steps:

    •  Introduce a comprehensive abortion law
    •  Expand and decentralize abortion services to ensure broad access to safe and legal abortions;
    •  Establish a government fund to cover abortion costs for poor women; and
    • Launch awareness programs to educate the public about abortion rights and address the misconceptions in Nepal about abortion.