The predominantly Catholic Dominican Republic is one of a few countries worldwide that bans abortion outright — even in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the mother’s life. According to senior researcher Margaret Wurth from Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division, the abortion ban isn’t as much of a problem for women from wealthy families who can afford to get abortions from outside the country. Without such an optional available to them, Wurth told Human Rights Watch’s Amy Braunschweiger, rural and poor women often resort to dangerous means to end their own pregnancies.
“Women die from unsafe abortions. Around eight percent of maternal deaths in the country are attributed to complications from abortion or miscarriage, but it’s likely higher,” said Wurth, adding that the proliferation of abortion-inducing medication had served to make clandestine abortions at least somewhat safer than they used to be. But many, she said, “still turn to more locally traditional methods to end pregnancy … herbs, teas, and beverages that can carry risks and lead to life-threatening complications.”
“Some pregnant women try to harm their health in hopes of causing miscarriage, depriving themselves of rest, water, or food. Some take medication like sleeping pills that are harmful to pregnancy. One woman I spoke with beat her stomach with a concrete block,” she continued.
In another disturbing anecdote, Wurth recalled interviewing a health educator who had to treat an 11-year-old girl who became pregnant after her step-father raped her.
“She had no idea what had happened to her, and there was nothing the provider could do but refer her to prenatal care,” said Wurth. “This is what banning abortion looks like.”
Speaking to Human Rights Watch, Rosa Hernandez said that she took her 16-year-old daughter, who was pregnant at the time, to the hospital with a high fever. After doctors examined her, she said, they initially tried to conceal the fact that they’d discovered her pregnant daughter had developed leukemia. When Hernandez learned about the diagnosis and demanded that they terminate the pregnancy so she could receive chemotherapy, doctors told her they weren’t allowed to give her such a treatment.
“Everyday she would say, ‘I can’t handle the pain, I’m dying,’” Hernandez recalled. She fought with doctors to have them administer chemotherapy to her daughter, but they refused, insisting that abortion is illegal — even if it were induced by cancer treatments.
“They let my daughter die,” a heartbroken Hernandez laments in the interview.
Watch Human Rights Watch’s interview with Hernandez below.
Read the full story at Human Rights Watch.