Abortion rights in Nepal: Assessing the role of media in the promotion of Women’s reproductive rights (2002)

Abortion rights in Nepal: Assessing the role of media in the promotion of Women’s reproductive rights (2002)

This report examines the media coverage devoted to the issue of abortion and women’s reproductive rights in Nepal. Abortion was conditionally legalised and became binding in law in Nepal in September 2002. This was after years of campaigning by women’s rights activists and other concerned individuals. Restrictive abortion laws have meant that thousands of Nepali women have undergone unsafe procedures carried out by unqualified medical practitioners; many of these women have died and many hundreds more have developed health problems as a result of this unprotected and often invisible approach.

In essence, the argument is that, in societies where abortion, for whatever reason, is illegal, women are necessarily discriminated against and their human rights violated. Increasingly the notion that women’s reproductive rights are human rights and thus deserve protection has been gaining acceptance. The change of the law in Nepal is reflective of such increasing acceptance of this reality.

In any society founded on the principles of democracy, the media has a duty to keep the public informed on issues that actually affect or may in due course affect their day to day lives. This report demonstrates that the media has already been instrumental in highlighting the issues that surround the new abortion law as well as the passing of the law itself.  The media have begun to appreciate and communicate the fact that Nepal’s women have been suffering in this respect for long enough.

The passing of this new law marked the beginning of the development of a society where women and men’s human rights are regarded as equal. The report shows that the passing of the new abortion law was hugely significant but that it is only the beginning of providing full rights to all women. Sustained efforts are needed by all concerned sectors so that this small seed can blossom and the respect for human rights that has been so lacking in recent years can become a critical part of Nepali society.

The national print media, both Nepali and English, was monitored and analysed from 1 June 2002 to 15 December 2002. There were a total of 11 Daily and Weekly (English and Nepali) Newspapers that were monitored during that period.  Out of the 57 articles reviewed, 23 out of 28 articles in the Nepali publications gave an opinion on the new rights on abortion.

All 23 of these articles were positive about the new legal provisions although 7 articles also highlighted the ways in which the law could be abused. 24 out of 29 articles in the English Publication also gave an opinion on abortion rights. Of these 23 were largely positive, although 4 did highlight the dangers or difficulties or making the law a reality for most women.

Only one article, “Women’s right to abort” (Himalayan Times, 3rd October, 2002, Page 6) gave a largely negative view of the new law stating that it could potentially ‘escalate foetal killings’ with women using rape as an ‘excuse’ to have an abortion.

The report produced by IHRICON has therefore helped to take this debate forward as well as highlight the need for a greater public discussion to take place. The profile of this law will ensure that women can begin to make their choices whilst being protected by the law. The report was published with the support of Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC), Nepal and Asia Pacific Resources and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)