Pregnant Dominican Teen Dies in Wake of Drawn-Out Abortion Debate

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.

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Abortion Ban Bars Chemo Treatment for Dominican Teen

Philippines Weighing in on Reproductive Health Bill

Texans Fleeing to Mexico for Reproductive Health Care

Photo Credit: Канопус Киля


Marianne B.
MARIA B.4 years ago

Doctors, politics, and a teenager's life and her baby. What a shame! My sympathy to her poor mother.

Diana C.
Diana C.4 years ago

This tragic case shows that it is time to BAN religion and LEGALIZE abortion. Worldwide.

James Kurt
James K.4 years ago

Betsy - This is not about Catholic "theory" or certain persons supporting a point of view - It is Catholic Teaching. We have a Pope and a hierarchy and Canon Law and a Catechism (not to mention 2,000 years of history lasting through any number of empires that have risen and fallen)… We don't just make things up as we go along. Anyone who goes against that Teaching is NOT being Catholic and so the Catholic Church and her teachings cannot be blamed for that, unless one wishes to defy reason. Again, in this case the doctors were given permission from the beginning - NO restrictions from the Catholic Church or the government. Perhaps the fact that the doctors did not act right away should, instead of bashing the Church, make one wonder if MAYBE there wasn't ANOTHER reason they didn't act - perhaps they were concerned about MEDICAL complications others have mentioned here. I don't know. But, again, I DO know that the Church does not have restrictions against treating a sick pregnant woman, even if it should have unfortunate adverse effects on the fetus. How anyone could think that the Church would simply want the woman to die when obviously if she dies the unborn child dies as well (a view expressed by an overwhelming number of people on this site) shows to me how very prejudiced against the Church people are, or how deceptive or deceived they are.

Betsy M.
Betsy M.4 years ago

@James K I do not doubt that you can find Catholic theorists who intellectually and spiritually support the ideas you say they do. I am just adding that there are real life women and infants whose lives, reproductive ability, and bodies are being damaged by Clinical Catholic PRACTICES of delayed treatment.

James Kurt
James K.4 years ago

Christine - For what it's worth, I completely agree with you about the equal guilt of the man. (Just using that as a famous example of Jesus' forgiveness.) And men should not do whatever they want with their bodies. They should be taught otherwise. But I have to ask you why you continue to accuse pro-lifers of causing the death of this women? (particularly since I've tried to explain the Church's teaching 4x) Any true pro-lifer cares as much for the mother as the child. This has been my near universal experience. And they also care as much for the poor as the unborn. May I relate a story? I founded and ran a soup kitchen for 4 years. At the time I had heard the fallacy of pro-lifers not being for the poor, and half believed it (when you hear things often enough it's natural to begin to believe them) One day I looked up from the line of servers and realized the people who were surrounding me serving on the soup kitchen line were the same ones that were praying at the abortion clinic regularly. That was the beginning of my pro-life work and that has been a consistent experience over the past decade or two since. The Church is recognized as the principle advocate for the unborn. True. But it is also undeniable that the Church does more to help the poor of the world than any other institution on the planet. How is that so easily ignored? The unborn are simply the poorest of the poor.

christine robertson

What a tragic end to a short life not only the childs but the mothers. What is the point of being a pro lifer when you are causing the death of someone else? why is it that men can do whatever they wish with their bodies but a woman cannot? Why is an unborn childs life or health more important than the mothers? I can empathize with Florence E about being an unwanted child forced upon its mother & its father & spending its whole life asking why it is not loved or wanted. And to James K Jesus may have said that but what of the man that commits adultery? Why is it always the womans fault? If if the woman is a willing participant & the man is married why can't he keep it in his pants & say no. Are men that weak that they fall apart when they are tempted? Remember it takes to to tango.

Florence Eaise
Florence Eaise4 years ago

I have to add that there's so many pro-life advocates out there so why are there so few adoptive parents and foster homes for all these unwanted babies? I feel its a woman choice and it depends on the circumstances, however i can tell you from experience as i was an unwanted baby, that babies born to women that dont/didnt want them suffer very sad lonely abusive lives and they are constantly reminded that they werent and arent wanted!

Florence Eaise
Florence Eaise4 years ago

This is all so very tragic RIP sweety RIP.

John B.
John B.4 years ago

Thanks Sarah for providing this sad info. Pro-lifer's concerns end when a baby is delivered as they could care less what happens after that and that is all they care about.

James Kurt
James K.4 years ago

Wendy - Not to judge… Amen! Love one another…. Amen and Amen!!
Hate our own sins….Amen!!! But we can't just ignore others' sins, especially since every sin has consequences, some of which are very palpable. (Should I not hate it when someone steals from another, or lies to many people publicly, or condemns my mother and father or kills others…? Does it make sense to remain apathetic in these circumstances? Would that show love? Sometimes the greatest act of love can be to admonish the sinner. It may keep him from a fate worse than death. Though Jesus ate with everyone from the Pharisees to tax collectors to prostitutes, the rich and the poor, He also admonished everyone, including His disciples, often severely. I think we would do well to remember that the last words of Jesus when He forgave the woman caught in adultery were, "Go and sin no more.")