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SRHR Situation Report: Abortion in the Dominican Republic

September 7, 2009

aborto legal derecho fundamental RD

This month, the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Situation Report focuses on the total prohibition of abortion in the Dominican Republic.  The DR has one of the most restrictive policy regimes in the world and has led to maternal mortality and dire consequences for Dominican women’s health.  Now, a constitutional amendment seeks to further restrict reproductive rights.

The Situation

For years, the women of the Dominican Republic have faced one of the toughest abortion policies in the world.  According to a summary on the International Women’s Health Coalition blog, the 100-year old law prohibiting abortion even in the case of rape has been challenged by feminist and rights groups, while forces on the right pushed for a constitutional amendment to “protect life” from the moment of conception.  Article 30, passed by a majority vote in April of this year, defines life as beginning before implantation.  This is a crucial distinction because it means that the amendment will affect the legality of emergency contraception and IUDs.  It also means that more Dominican women will die because they are not allowed access to critical reproductive health technologies and services.

A classic: Get your rosaries off our ovaries!

A classic: Get your rosaries off our ovaries!

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Catholic church hierarchy has again been one of the key culprits in restricting women’s rights.  Article 30 comes in the wake of a “massive campaign” led by the Cardinal Archbishop of the Dominican Catholic church.  The Human Development Office coordinator for the UNDP in the Dominican Republic has criticized the church’s involvement, saying, “The Catholic Church influences everything… it has become a source for social exclusion in the Dominican Republic.  The dogma is placed ahead of the needs of the population, health, housing and better living conditions.”  Catholic hierarchy, stop your meddling!

Implications for Dominican Women and Girls

The Dominican Gynecology and Obstetrics Society is warning that Article 30 will mean an increase in maternal death, which is already far too high in the country.  Abortion can be an extremely safe procedure when performed in a safe and clinical atmosphere.  In countries where abortion is restricted, however, clandestine abortion is often a leading cause of maternal mortality.  In the Dominican Republic, there are 160 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  The Dominican Gynecology and Obstetrics Society’s president has said, “those deaths are the product of unsafe abortions.  I would like the honourable legislators to tell me what we are going to do before the presence of a woman with severe preeclampsia or eclampsia, convulsing in any emergency room around the country, what must we do?  See her die to protect ourselves from the repercussions stipulated by Article 30?”

In addition to the lives that will be lost unnecessarily because of this amendment, thousands of women will be denied their preferred method of contraception– the Intra-Uterine Device.  IUDs and emergency contraception (the morning after pill) would both constitute violations under Article 30’s restrictive framework.  There is a high contraceptive prevalence rate in the Dominican Republic, and a good chunk of that number is women with IUDs.  Both the IUD and emergency contraception are critical pieces of the reproductive healthcare spectrum and their restriction further limits women’s ability to control their reproductive lives and participate as full and equal members of society.  I’m not sure which I find more troubling: the blatant prohibition of abortion even given the scientific research that women will die because of it, or the more insidious restriction of women’s rights through closing down family planning options.

No to Article 30! Every woman's life matters

No to Article 30: The life of every woman matters

Fighting Back

Our Dominican sisters are fighting back… tomorrow afternoon, Dominican women will march on the Congress against Article 30.  The march is being led by a coalition of feminist and human rights NGOs, including Colectiva Mujer y Salud (CESIM).  CESIM’s director, Sonia Galvan, has said that abortion “is a human rights issue.” A woman after my own heart!  I am especially pleased to see the Dominican women’s movement framing abortion as a human rights issue because it was a successful strategy in the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City a few years ago.  It’s also great to hear a UN representative speaking out against the heavy-handed involvement of the Catholic church heirarcy.

If you are a Dominican citizen (even living in the U.S.), you can send an email to your representative with a little help from the International Women’s Health Coalition blog.  Pass it on to Dominican friends, too.  At this point, according to IWHC, the role of other international activists and feminists is a bit more ambiguous.  But keep your eyes on the developments in the Dominican Republic and continue raise your voice for the human rights of women everywhere.

Brook Elliott-Buettner is a freelance human rights policy researcher and writer living in New York. More information and work is available at

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