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

Doctors were forced to wait to treat her cancer due to fears it could terminate the pregnancy, while her mother pleaded for an abortion in an effort to save her daughter's life.

Rosa Hernandez, mother of the teen. CNN.

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 Rewire 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.