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

An aggressive advocacy campaign by the Catholic Church has resulted in changes in the Constitution of the Dominican Republic protecting "the right to life" from the moment of conception to death.

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 rights.

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.