Dominican Republic: Catholic Republic? “Right to Life” Enters Constitution

As a result of an aggressive advocacy campaign by the
Catholic Church, the National Congress of Dominican Republic approved an
article of Constitutional Reform protecting the right to life from the moment
of conception to death.

The new Article 30, approved by a large majority of 167-32,
states "the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.  The death penalty cannot be established,
pronounced, nor applied, in any case."

For weeks the Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Archbishop
Nicolas de Jesus Lopez of Santo Domingo, promoted the pro-life article through
marches, television speeches, and protests outside of government buildings and
in other places.

"The Crusade for Life" included collecting one million
signatures to present to the National Congress.

The offensive tenor of their campaign provokes fear among
the believers and outrage among the doctors. Referring to abortion supporters
and the constitutional reform process, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo said on
his Sunday homily:

"We know that there are butcher doctors, there are
legislators who like to trade in life, there are people who have authority who
make a living from that." He added that "we will be upfront, always
upfront, clashing," and that "We are here to tell you, ‘yes to life,
no to death,’ definitely." Lastly, he said that abortion is a
"crime," that it "exploits women" and that it is

The Cardinal Archbishop Nicolas de Jesus Lopez went further.
He attacked members of Parliament, saying that Minou Tavares and Víctor
Terrero, were ‘abortionists’ (pro-abortion). 

So not only are parishioners feeling afraid, but so are legislators
who want to keep the believers’ votes and be reelected on the coming elections
of May 2010.

In fact, some legislators showed no shame in admitting that
they feel fear, as some local media recorded.

Therefore, votes are more valuable than women’s lives.

In fact, the legal provision will increase the maternal
mortality rate, since therapeutic abortion will be penalized and unsafe
abortions will proliferate.

According to the report "Análisis de la Situación del Aborto
Inseguro" (Analysis on Unsafe Abortion), certified by the Sociedad de
Obstetricia y Ginecología (Obstetric Society), the maternal mortality rate in
Dominican Republic is 159 deaths for 100,000 newborns, from which 20 percent is
due to unsafe abortions.

Moreover, women whose
life or health is in danger as a result of a pregnancy will be
unprotected, particularly low income Dominicans, who cannot afford a trip to Colombia or
other country where the therapeutic abortion is legal.  

Many women legislators were aware of the provision’s consequences
for women and were vehement in the debate; however, others moderated their tone
in order to avoid clashes with the Church.

One can see the influence of Catholic thinking in the way of
voting – the legislators approved the article 29, which states the right to gender
equality, and next the article 30, which denies some of women’s reproductive

We have to recall that Dominican Republic is not a secular
state. The Concordat between the State and the Catholic Church goes back to
1954, when the country was under the Trujillo’s

Despite a UNICEF top official declaration, the mobilization
of women’s organizations, and the opinion of medical societies, 80 percent of
legislators supported the article 30.

The Dominican women’s movement tried to alert the public
about the provision’s negative consequences for women. The NGO Colectivo Mujer
y Salud implemented the campaign "For women’s health," which showcases the
consequences of forced pregnancy on the lives of women who are pregnant as a
result of rape.

Last March, Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s regional director for
Latin America and the Caribbean, visited Dominican Republic and in the context
of the constitutional reform  "called on
legislators ‘not to be hypocrites, trying to make abortion illegal,’ as he
believes that this type of measure would mainly affect poor adolescents between
the ages of 15 and 17 who by resorting to unsafe services would lose not only
the baby but their lives as well," stated a UNICEF press release.

The Dominican Obstetric Society and the Science Academy also
expressed their disagreement with the provision before its approval, and have
announced their decision to call on the support of similar international
organizations to apply pressure, since there still a second reading with formal
promulgation by the President also required.

The current Dominican Penal Code criminalizes the
abortion in all circumstances. With this provision, the possibilities to
liberalize the abortion in particular cases would practically disappear in the
near future, since it would require a new Constitutional reform.

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  • invalid-0

    I hope the Dominican Republic is also willing to provide material and other assistance to women who have unplanned pregnancies, and that this support continues as their children grow (including with regard to maternity leave, education for both mother and child, etc). Similarly, I hope their justice system will be so structured as to protect citizens from criminals.
    Providing support for women and keeping convicted criminals alive will be costly and difficult. In both cases simply allowing life to be snuffed out is an appealing solution. Hopefully social justice continues to be successful and continue on a trajectory to a more just and equitable society, where everyone has their fundamental human rights protected – irrespective of race, sex, religion, age, mental ability, or even what crimes they have committed – no matter the cost to society.

    Yes, I realise this is a pro-choice blog.

  • invalid-0

    And perhaps the right to life of others would be equally valued as to be protected over anothers body, not just when its a fetus and not just when a womans body is used….and support will be given to those too.

  • invalid-0

    and any action to stop someone from using anothers body when their life is also dependent upon it, thereby snuffing them out, will be a crime. Life will also be inviolable here too.

  • invalid-0

    Of course, if you are a woman whose own life is threatened by a pregnancy, you have no right to life, no doubt because your situation is god’s will. May I be so presumptuous as to quote from a poem I wrote after reading Dr. Susan Wicklund’s This Common Secret?

    “You preach of death, and call us murderers
    Of quarter-size, translucent, formless disks.
    Idolaters of blind, unfeeling cells,
    You count for nothing those already born,
    Their hopes, fears, agonies, their very selves,
    For nothing all the morgue-slab failures of
    Your fevered dogma dreams.”

    Now, who are the real murderers here?

  • invalid-0

    Well, if this is the way the world is going, maybe it won’t be all bad. This constitutional change could affect birth practices. We might now see doctors and others who use birth as an excuse to use uterine stimulants, narcotics, surgical procedures and instruments on women and babies being rightfully charged with murder when the interventions used are examined and found to have been medically unnecessary, and there is a death.

  • invalid-0

    So that won’t happen here. Abortion will always be safe and legal, it is the law of the land, and in the Constitution. A fetus is not a someone, by the way.

  • invalid-0

    or denying life-saving medical care to the woman in the name of the fetus right to life, as this law allows no exception to save the life of the woman…. or forcing unwanted and harmful medical care (that is not needed for the woman) on the woman instead as a birth practice to save the fetus.

    There are other means than this type of law to regulate bad medical practices…these other means are enacted for other malpractice deaths in other areas of practice…they are called malpractice or medical battery laws.

  • invalid-0

    another way to regulate is to enforce consent laws – no uterine stimulants/interventions used by a doctor if the woman doesn’t consent. There is no need to take her right to live away in a dangerous pregnancy as this law that was just enacted does.

  • invalid-0

    I agree about enforcing consent laws, but they are not being enforced. I agree that women should be able to appeal to criminal and civil prosecutors, but criminal charges can only be pressed if there is enough evidence, and such evidence is routinely left out of patient’s charts. Civil charges can be brought, but try finding a lawyer who will represent a woman with “minimal” damages, or, in other words, less than a surefire $3 mil. suit. It will take a concentrated effort by the public to bring about the changes which will assure women autonomy, more than just voting a straight dem. ticket. It will take a fundamental swing in the attitudes about the constitutional rights to life and liberty. It is not my place to tell a woman that she can not consent to or refuse procedures relating to her body and pregnancy, nor is it anyone or govts. place. If people are anti-abortion than the very simple solution is “Don’t have one yourself”. Also, when women are forced into a submissive role to their fetus, it is not a far cry from being forced to donate organs, tissue, blood, and cord blood as a mandatory function of citizenship in order to preserve the life of another.

    • invalid-0

      For liberal feminists such questions, as the right to abortion, a question on sexual harassments, possibility of voting equal in rights, equality in formation, “equal payment for equal work” (the slogan “Equal pay for equal work are important!”), availability of care of children, availability of health services, attention attraction to a problem of sexual and household violence concerning women… All it is very important for a democratic society and the general health of the nation…

  • paul-bradford



    Thank you for realizing that being Pro-Life is more than simply passing laws against behaviors that contradict Pro-Life principles.  In this country, where we actually have some wealth, we are in a position to do the sorts of things that will make choosing life a legitimate option for women in distress.  We are also in a position to promote various forms of contraception (including abstinence) to women who want to exercise the choice not to become mothers.


    Being Pro-Life and Pro-Choice are not polar opposites.



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    Right – not only is a womans right to life not valuable enough to be protected over anothers body (its all pro-choice yet not at all ‘pro-life’ when her life needs anothers body) while the fetus right to life is protectable over her body and also her life.

  • invalid-0

    I agree with the last entry. It is a woman’s right to choose what is best for herself and it’s private matter. No one likes being told what to do, so this is no different. If one believes that life begins at conception, that is their own opinion and does not give them the right to fulfill some purpose to tell one who believes otherwise, that their opinion is wrong. If one believes a fetus isn’t a life or that it is none of their business to tell others what to do, that is their opinion. Let’s just live and let live.

    • invalid-0

      YAY! I agree completely. People should be allowed to practice their own moral and religious beliefs, not have some agenda stuffed down their throat. Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one. Don’t want a baby? Do have one. Whatever. None of my or anyone else’s business.