A pregnant teen suffering from leukemia in the Dominican Republic died on Friday morning, CNN reports. She was at the center of a national debate about the country’s abortion ban and mother’s rights. Doctors stalled cancer treatment for fear they were breaking the Dominican Republic’s constitutional ban on abortion, imperiling her life.
The debate originally began when she was eight weeks pregnant. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia that required immediate treatment. It took around 20 days for doctors to finally agree to provide the chemotherapy required to save her life. They were hesitant knowing that the girl’s unborn fetus would be harmed by the treatment, possibly landing the medical professionals in hot water.
When professionals began to provide treatment, the 16-year-old was 13 weeks pregnant. Her body quickly rejected the chemotherapy and a blood transfusion. Officials say the young woman’s condition quickly deteriorated this week, especially on Thursday evening. Tragically, she suffered a miscarriage and she passed away on Friday morning.
The teen’s heart-wrenching story sparked fierce global debates about women’s rights in a strictly Catholic country. Currently, Article 37 of the country’s constitution, passed in 2009, bans any and all abortions from the moment of conception, trumping a mother’s health, cases of rape, incest or extreme fetal malformation. Although government officials claimed that in this case the treatment should begin, doctors feared they would be criminalized and stalled her treatment for three weeks.
In the meantime, the teen’s story fomented a large oppositional movement that demanded a revision of the abortion ban. The teen, whose name was never disclosed because of her status as a minority, was nicknamed “Esparancita.” For a short time, she served as an emblem of the women’s rights movement.
The young woman’s mother, Rosa Hernandez, told reporters that she had been striving to save her daughter’s life for weeks on end. “My daughter’s life is first. I know that (abortion) is a sin and that it goes against the law … but my daughter’s health is first.”
The incident clearly illustrates that the mother’s health was not considered first. Rather, the legal rhetoric behind the ban and fear of repercussions caused the medical establishment of the Dominican Republic to fail a young woman with acute leukemia, desperate for immediate care. Her tragic death is a serious reminder of how abortion debates are about the health and wellness of women and their own right to life. In this particular battle, a mother did lose her child, one she had raised for 16 years.
Photo Credit: Канопус Киля