UN experts call for new Criminal Code reform to be widened on abortion in Dominican Republic

On 27 July 2016, four United Nations human rights experts – the Chair of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and the Special Rapporteurs on health, violence against women, and torture – urged the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and legislators to protect women’s and girls’ rights to sexual and reproductive health in the country.“We urge Dominican authorities to repeal all restrictive legal provisions regarding abortion, especially in cases of risk to the health, including mental health, of the woman or girl, of rape and incest and of fatal impairment of the fetus,” they said.This call comes at a time when the Dominican Senate will debate reform of the Penal Code, which was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies and promulgated by the President in 2014. Although abortion was partially decriminalized in three circumstances – when the life of a pregnant women or girl was at risk, when the fetus could not survive outside the womb and when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest – this clause was withdrawn in December 2015 one day before it was due to come into effect. An appeal by conservative groups to the Constitutional Court asked for a judgement whether these reforms were unconstitutional because the Constitution protects life from conception. The Court acknowledged this was true and the clauses were withdrawn.The UN experts’ letter states: “In comparison with the text of the Criminal Code adopted in 2014, the new proposal to amend the Dominican Criminal Code constitutes a clear regression in women’s and girls’ rights, especially to access safe health care services.”Under a new proposed amendment, terminating a pregnancy is only available in one case: when there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or girl. “Denying women and girls’ access to safe abortion services in cases of health reasons, fetal impairment and pregnancy resulting from rape, will certainly cause excessive and long-lasting physical and psychological suffering to many women… Reducing access to such health services violates women’s and girls’ right to be protected against gender-based discrimination and from torture and ill-treatment”. The experts also warned that restrictive abortion laws exacerbate the risks to the health and safety of the affected women, driving them to undergo sometimes desperate life-threating solutions, made worse in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in Latin America.The proposed new text of the Criminal Code also establishes that women who induce the termination of their pregnancy will be liable to 2–3 year imprisonment sentences. Health professionals who perform abortions under any circumstances other than risk to the pregnant woman’s or girl’s life, will be liable to 4–10 years in jail.“The Dominican Republic did not seize this key moment of legislative amendment to reaffirm its commitment towards the elimination of gender discrimination in its legislation and to advance women’s and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights but, rather, is attempting to remove crucial rights to reproductive health,” deeply regretted the experts.FULL STATEMENT: ENGLISH ; ESPAÑOLSEE ALSO: Campaign newsletter, 16 December 2016PHOTO: Demonstration, November 2014