The Dominican Republic remains one of the most stringent countries in regards to its abortion policies. The right to life is guaranteed from the moment of conception until birth, intrinsically trumping the health of the mother in order to ensure that the unborn child remains healthy. CNN quotes Article 37, the abortion ban which passed back in 2009. It reads, “the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death.” That means that abortion is illegal even in cases of incest, rape or extreme fetal malformation.
Now the medical case of a young girl is ruffling the feathers of anti-abortion officials and restarting a debate that has remained in the shadows since the abortion law was passed three years ago. A young girl with acute leukemia needs an aggressive round of chemotherapy in order to have a chance of survival. The problem is that the girl, whose name remains undisclosed, is nine weeks pregnant. The chemo treatment will almost certainly threaten the unborn fetus. The debate has forced officials to prioritize either the life of the mother or the fetus.
The long and endless round of debates from officials and the fears of the doctors have wasted valuable time while the girl remains dangerously ill.
This particular case has caused a major oppositional movement to foment, and many argue that the stringent abortion law should be reconsidered. Victor Torrero, an oppositional figure in the Dominican Republic, blames the ban for causing higher adult female mortality and an increased likelihood of clandestine abortions, causing common medical complications. Amnesty International has found that maternal mortality rates rise in countries like the Dominican Republic where abortion is completely banned.
Doctors have not started any type of treatment out of fear that they will be prosecuted and put out of practice if they break the law. Although officials have slowly come around to allowing the treatment to go on, the core problem for activists and opponents remains that officials are so uncertain about the health and value of the mother. Authors of the anti-choice law claim that the debate is artificial and that it is legal for the mother to get the chemotherapy. Pelegrin Castillo, one of the authors of Article 37, told CNN:
What we have clearly said is that in this case doctors are authorized by the constitution to treat the patient. They don’t have to worry about anything. They have the mandate of protecting both lives.
Critics of the abortion ban have remained adamant that the debate itself has caused harm to the girl already by wasting time. A Reuters blog points out that it remains unclear if treatment has begun for the 16-year-old. Obscurity plagues the whole case. Only wealthy women, able to pay a private doctor, have access to abortions. The Catholic Church remains a central influence on abortion laws and debates in the country.
Although the young girl remains a symbol of hope, nicknamed “Esparancita,” in the oppositional movement, her return to health has not been guaranteed, nor is it guaranteed a new debate will foment to change the law in the country to favor a women’s right to choose.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army