By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman
SANTO DOMINGO, August 24, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com)—Citizens of the Dominican Republic protested both inside and outside of the country’s Chamber of Deputies (lower house of congress) against an attempt to legalize “therapeutic abortion” in the island nation last Wednesday.
Protesters outside of the building held signs that included statements such as, “Yes to life, no to abortion”, “We are in favor of life”, and “Abortion is murder”. “If the legalization of abortion is approved, the Dominican Republic will be seen at the international level as the slaughterhouse of the Caribbean,” said Gene Castillo, a spokesman for Catholic and Protestant groups opposing the changes.
“We know that abortion is a crime because it is a violation of life, it is the elimination of the life that is forming in the womb of the mother. Some feminist positions say that to preserve the life of the woman and defend her rights it is necessary to kill the baby. But this argument is self-contradictory because more than 50 percent of those babies that are going to be born are women,” said Father Luis Rosario of the Catholic Church’s youth ministry “Pastoral Juvenil”, in a separate interview.
The proposed alterations to the law are part of an ongoing project by legislators to overhaul the Dominican Republic’s Penal Code. The existing code bans abortion without exception, although the law is not interpreted as penalizing abortions that occur in the process of saving the mother’s life.
Commenting on the proposed changes earlier this month, Alejandro Pérez Gerónimo y Carlos Mateo of the Evangelical Council of the Assemblies of God, stated that “this would be a clear violation of one of the vital commandments dictated by God that one must not kill. The most troubling aspect of this is that the door could be opened to businesses that would have human lives as their principle merchandise.”
Inside the Congress, during a public hearing, individuals and representatives of numerous groups expressed their opinions about the law change. Abortion advocates suggested legalizing the practice in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformities, and “health” concerns, and even abortion on demand.
The president of the Dominican Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Adrian Almonte, stated his firm opposition to any change in the law, while Lilian Fondeur, who was representing the Dominican Medical College, advocated allowing abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities or incest.
Rafael Mena, president of the National Association of Private Clinics (ANDECLIP), which has a direct profit motive for supporting abortion, took the most extreme stance at the hearings, asking for abortion on demand.
One citizen, Maria Ramona Garcia, offered a moving account of her own situation. One of her own children was the product of a rape she suffered, but according to her the child is the “most beautiful” she has had. “Children are not guilty for the circumstances in which they were conceived,” she told the legislators. “Don’t approve that [the legalization of abortion], sirs, don’t approve it.”
Dennise Paiewonsky of the “Women and Health Collective” said that the Dominican Republic should allow abortions in order to conform with the practices of other countries. “Strangely, we are keeping ourselves at the margin of the world’s juridical consensus, still clinging to the legal standards of the 19th century,” she told legislators.
Paiewonsky implied that the existing law prohibits measures to save women’s lives. “How would any of you feel if you were diagnosed with a severe illness for which treatment exists, and it was denied to you because it violates religious beliefs that you don’t share?” However, the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs notes in its report “Abortion Policies, A Global Review” that the law is not interpreted to prohibit life-saving measures that might cause abortions, stating that “in practice, both the legal and medical professions consider abortion performed to save the life of the woman to be legal in the Dominican Republic.”
Anti-life protesters outside the building also claimed that women’s lives were at stake, chanting “contraceptives to avoid abortion, abortion to avoid death!” The Associated Press, in its reporting on the protests, also repeated the claim that the law prohibited life-saving procedures.
The Dominican Republic is somewhat schizophrenic on human life issues. It is one of the countries in Latin America with the strongest legislation against abortion. In 2001, it joined several other Latin American countries in declaring March 25th as the “Day of the Unborn”, which coincides with the feast of the Annunciation, reflecting the country’s strong Catholic roots.
However, families tend to be smaller in the Caribbean nation, especially compared to other countries in the region such as Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The government encourages and subsidizes birth control; there are over 700 public institutions and 100 subsidized private clinics on the island that distribute contraceptives, which are used by sixty-six percent of women. Forty percent of women ultimately choose to be sterilized.
Although abortion is currently illegal in the Dominican Republic, the law is rarely enforced, except in cases in which the woman obtaining the abortion dies, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. When an abortion clinic was shut down earlier this year, the doctors and patients only received light fines, and were not imprisoned, although the law provides for jail and prison terms of up to several years.
In his recent address to the bishops of the Dominican Republic, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern about social trends in the country, noting that there are evident “symptoms of a process of secularization in which, for many people, God does not represent the source, the goal, or the ultimate meaning of life.”
“I am not unaware of the problems which the family institution encounters in your Nation, especially with the drama of divorce and the pressures to legalize abortion, in addition to the spread of unions that do not comply with the Creator’s plan for marriage,” Benedict added.
Although anti-life forces are strong in the country, Father Rosario of Pastoral Juvenil indicated that pro-lifers are ready to fight: “This is a human, ethical, and social problem. It isn’t necessary to be religious to defend life, because we are human beings and our reason guides us to know that to eliminate life is something contradictory, irrational, absurd, and monstrous. And we are prepared to do battle.”
The Embassy of the Dominican Republic in the USA
Extension 2517: Ambassador Flavio Darío Espinal
Extension 2503: First Secretary (Political Section) Mr. Edgar Aponte
1715 22nd Street, NW
Washington DC 2008
The Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Canada
Email: Eduardo J. Tejera, Ambassador:
130 Albert Street,
Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4
Previous LifeSiteNews Coverage:
Dominican Republic Refuses to Legalize Abortion for Rape Victims
Latin American Bishops Blast United Nations and EU for Anti-Family Pressure