In April 2009, an amendment to the Dominican Republic’s constitution was approved stating, “The right to life is inviolable from conception until death.” Simply put, the D.R. has outlawed abortion—at any stage of pregnancy. As one can imagine, the consequences of this have been disastrous, especially for young women and underage girls.
Talking abortion is never easy. The thought of ending the life of an unborn child brings to light myriad unanswerable questions of morality—or lack of. We’re taught to embrace life and protect it, aren’t we? But not having sexual education, contraceptives, and safe abortions in a country where most people lack basic needs and health services, takes a toll measured in the lives of many young girls and women on the island.
Since abortion in the D.R. is illegal under all circumstances, statistics are almost impossible to measure. The government chooses to assume no abortions are being performed. Unofficially, it’s estimated that approximately 100,000 abortions are performed there annually, either in alleyway clinics or with the help of self-administered home remedies and over-the-counter products.
And abortion has become one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in the country.
On a daily basis, doctors at overcrowded public hospitals are faced with having to provide urgent medical care to walk-in patients experiencing complications of second-rate procedures performed by unofficial providers or self-induced abortions. Many women suffer perforations and internal injuries or are unable to conceive in the future. Others simply don’t survive.
So what can be done?
Education is the only resource left. Information must be provided to women and young girls about the consequences of sex, what to do if they’re victims of sex crimes, and also how they can protect themselves once they’re sexually active. The women of the D.R. must be empowered. Only then can the needless deaths be stopped.
Unfortunately, the D.R. is not the only country in Latin America with an abortion ban in place. As you can see in this document from the Guttmacher Institute, Nicaragua and El Salvador also outlaw abortion at any stage of pregnancy and under any circumstances. Salvadorian women who lose the baby naturally may even face legal prosecution. In Costa Rica, the only exception for doing the procedure is if the physical health of the mother is in danger. Guatemala and Honduras also make exceptions if the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
There are several international organizations working in the D.R. and other Latin American countries to provide information on birth control methods, post-abortion medical care, and family planning; and making reproductive health services safe, available, and sustainable for women. Here are the links to three of them if you want to donate:
7 Reasons Women Seek Abortions Despite the Ban
A stranger raped the woman
The woman has several children already and lacks knowledge on how to prevent pregnancy
A young woman has been raped by a family member and is afraid to tell the truth
The woman’s partner refused to use contraceptives, and the woman had no access to birth control otherwise
The woman is a minor and became pregnant because of lack of access to contraceptives and/or lack of knowledge on how to properly use them
The pregnancy is the product of rape by an abusive husband or partner
The woman has a disease, which will prevent her from carrying the pregnancy without it presenting a danger to her own life