Lakshmi, a poor woman from the far-western region of Nepal who already had five children, became pregnant for the sixth time. She and her husband knew that having another child would be financially strenuous and would take a significant toll on Lakshmi’s health, so they requested for legal abortion at a government hospital. However, there they were asked to pay a fee of 1,130 rupees (about USD 14.46) for the abortion. Due to her poor economic status, Lakshmi could not pay the fee and therefore had not option except to carry the unintended pregnancy to term.

In February 22, 2007, Lakshmi, with the support from Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) and in collaboration with other co-petitioners, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of Nepal. The writ petition challenged the Nepal government’s failure to ensure adequate access to safe abortion services despite the decriminalization of abortion on broad grounds in 2002. Lakshmi claimed her inability to receive a safe and legal abortion violated her reproductive rights and other fundamental rights, including the right to live with dignity, freedom, equality and non-discrimination, self-determination, and confidentiality. The petition further alleged that this violates Nepal’s human rights obligations under international treaties, as well as the then Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007. The petition called on the Court to order the enactment of a separate law on abortion to ensure women’s access to safe and affordable abortion services.

Historically, Nepal’s abortion law was one of the most restrictive and harshly implemented in the world. In 2002, after years of advocacy by national women’s rights organizations, public health experts, and international human rights groups, the Muluki Ain (the Country Code) was amended and decriminalized abortion without restriction as to reason during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. While this constituted a significant victory for women’s rights and was hailed as an important health measure, it was not sufficient in ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services. Lakshmi and others v. Government of Nepal was filed demanding government’s accountability for its failure to ensure women’s access to safe and legal abortion services. This decision in this case was ground-breaking for its recognition of abortion as part of a woman’s fundamental right to reproductive health and ordering that the government take steps to ensure that no woman is denied safe abortion services due to their inability to pay the service fee. The Supreme Court also issued a directive order to enact separate and comprehensive law on abortion incorporating reproductive health-related provisions from international human rights laws.