Pregnant Dominican Teen Dies of Complications of Cancer and Refusal of Abortion

A pregnant 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic died from complications of leukemia, according to CNN. The young woman was forced to wait nearly three weeks to begin chemotherapy to treat her disease as hospital officials initially refused to treat her fearing it could terminate her pregnancy. In the end she lost her life and the pregnancy, and may have died because of the delay in her treatment.

Under an amendment to the Dominican Republic’s constitution which declares that “life begins at conception,” abortion is banned, effectively for any reason. The girl’s leukemia was diagnosed when she was just nine weeks pregnant.

Dominican women’s health advocates told RH Reality Check this afternoon that while the doctors and the state refused to allow the girl treatment for leukemia, they made her undergo “ultrasounds to show that the baby was healthy and for her to see it moving.”

Chemotherapy was begun after the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, at which time the girl began to bleed, yet still the doctors refused to interrupt the pregnancy. Advocates report that she subsequently miscarried the pregnancy and began to hemorrhage; the medical team was unable to contain the bleeding and she died. 

The girl’s mother had pleaded with both doctors and authorities to give her daughter an abortion so she could begin chemotherapy immediately.

At the time that treatment started, Rosa Hernandez, the girl’s mother, said she had been trying to convince doctors and the Dominican government to make an exception so that her daughter’s life could be saved.

“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,” Hernandez said.

The law forced a gamble on the girls life to “balance” between the alleged medical rights of what was at the time of diagnosis an embryo and the girl in whose body it resided, a gamble that clearly did not pay off for either of them. 

As anti-choice laws become even more radical here in the United States, we can’t help but look at a story like this and wonder if this could be our future, too. We’ve become so extreme in our bans that a fact-checker can now say with a straight face that a politician doesn’t oppose all abortions because after all, “he has supported an exception for when a mother’s life is at stake.”

But what does it mean for a woman’s life to be “at stake?”

“There are no exceptions in Personhood USA’s presidential pledge because there are no situations where it becomes necessary to dismember a baby,” said Jennifer Mason, spokesperson for Personhood USA, in a January press release.

“With the passage of federal or state personhood amendments, recognizing the personhood rights of both mother and child, women will still of course have access to life-saving treatments and medical care,” Mason continued. “Procedures to treat both mom and baby can potentially lead to happier outcomes for both patients, whereas abortion procedures, which are dangerous as it stands already, intentionally kill a child.”

Anti-choice activists continue to push the idea that a woman or teen refusing cancer treatment and dying to try to continue a pregnancy is the most beautiful sacrifice that could be made, irrespective of the desires of the girl or woman in question or the desires of her family.

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  • coralsea

    This situation is beyond disturbing.  They basically submitted this poor young woman to torture with the ultrasounds — and did they really expect her to avoid chemotherapy for MONTHS and not die or seriously impair her health?  This is just heart-breaking, and I would think that it goes against everything that medicine is supposed to do?


    But what I really find sick are the people, most of whom are motivated by religion, who believe that this is a choice they can make for someone else.  And then to view it as a “beautiful thing?”  That is twisted.


    Perhaps if these folks think it is so noble and beautiful to give one’s life for the innocent (even if the innocent is probably going to die, too), these folks should start donating their various organs to children who would die without a transplant.  I know that they can’t donate their hearts — because they don’t have hearts, clearly.  But surely they could spare a kidney and part of a liver and maybe one cornea.  Or maybe they will simply shake their heads and smuggly state that if God wants the child to live, he’ll heal him or her, and it would be WRONG to interfere in God’s work.


    Frankly, I of the opinion that God would have smited (smote?) all the doctors and medical schools by now if he thought that teenaged cancer patients deserved to die. 

  • colleen

    This is a form of ritual human sacrIfice.:




  • crowepps

     if these folks think it is so noble and beautiful to give one’s life for the innocent

    This girl did not voluntarily ‘give’ her life, however, but instead was sacrificing unwilingly.

    It’s the difference between martyrdom and murder.

  • thalwen

    Of course Personhood doesn’t see any situation where an abortion might be necessary to save the life of a person. I mean the only person involved is the fetus right? This is sickening. Doctors are supposed to do no harm, and here they murdered this girl in the name of misoginy. It’s as if they really don’t see that there is a real, living, breathing woman or girl that is involved in pregnancy, or they just don’t care.

  • coralsea

    Crowepps —

    I definitely agree with you about the murder here.  Also, after I made this post, I was thinking about the fact that this young woman was alive and viable within the world — as opposed to the “unborn.”  I would think that in a “decision” over which “life” to save, one would automatically default to the woman and her wishes and choice.  That it is not — that she is considered less important than a fetus that is growing within her body — brings us back to the concept of the woman as mere “vessel,” which is the ultimate misogynism.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    What those politicians, doctors, and priests did was criminal Munchausen by Proxy homicide.  They used a fetus and medical neglect to murder her.   Her mother should press criminal charges, international, if necessary, and make the doctors international pariahs.  Of course, the same country would never arrest Rush Limbaugh or priests for sex tourism and pedophilia.

  • liberaldem

    care about anything other than advancing their extreme agenda.  To suggest that sacrificing a young woman’s life for a potential life is a “beautiful thing” is obscene.  This young woman had a serious, life-threatening disease that killed her because her doctors were too dogmatic, and too afraid to challenge an inhumane law.  They failed to live up to their Hypocratic oath, big time.

  • drdredd

    Someone needs to confront the right-winger politicians with this case and ask them, point-blank, what they would have done.  Don’t allow them to hem and haw or talk their way around the question.  This isn’t a hypothetical case; it really happened, and once we see how the politicians respond we can expose them for the anti-lifers they truly are.

  • coralsea

    DrDredd —

    I agree with your suggestions 100%.  This case points up just what the concept of personhood can mean if carried to its logical conclusion — and its conclusion was utterly obscene.  I always worry about blanket statements — especially ones that are underpinned by religious interpretation.  Real life doesn’t lend itself to blanket statements, and sometimes unpleasant choices must be made.  Politicians, of course, never want to be seen as directly accountable for specific unpleasant choices.  This is one case where their feet should be held to the fire–are they willing to let other, living, breathing young women to die to satisfy crazy zealots? Yes or no? 

  • veggietart

    that the right to life is inviolable from conception to death.  Clearly not because this young woman was allowed to die.  If the right to life were truly inviolable, her life would have superseded that of the fetus–who was doomed–and she would have gotten treatment, possibly in time to save her life.  Of course, she may have ended up sterile, and what purpose would she have served in their eyes?

    DrDredd, I agree:  Ask every anti-choice politician what if it were his wife or his daughter whose life was threatened by a pregnancy and the only thing that could save her was ending the pregnancy.  Then ask him why it’s okay for his wife/daughter but not okay for any other woman, who is also a wife, a daughter, a sister, possibly a mother.