The Dominican Republic has taken a drastic step backwards for women’s human rights as the Constitutional Court struck down reforms to the Penal Code that would have decriminalized abortion in certain cases, Amnesty International warned today.
After last night’s decision overturned a tranche of penal code reforms adopted last year, the current code, which dates back to 1884, will remain in force. The code denies women and girls access to abortion in all circumstances, and criminalizes them for seeking one, even in cases of rape or incest, where a pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s or girl’s life or health, or where a foetus will be unable to survive outside the womb.
“This decision takes women’s and girls’ human rights back to the 19th century,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Its impact will be catastrophic for women and girls in the Dominican Republic who will continue to be criminalized, stigmatized and forced to seek out unsafe abortions because they are denied access to safe and legal medical treatment.”
The penal code reforms were due to take effect on 19 December, a year after being passed by Dominican Republic’s Congress and approved by President Danilo Medina. But, following an appeal by three religious and conservative pressure groups earlier this year alleging procedural errors, amongst other things, the Court deemed the reforms unconstitutional.
Amnesty International and several other national and international NGOs filed amicus curiae briefs to the Court which pointed out the country’s international legal obligations.
The groups also stated that “the Inter-American Court, as the only authorized interpreter of the American Convention on Human Rights, has established that the protection to the right to life is not absolute and cannot be used to justify the denial of other rights. Faced with conflicting rights, it would be possible to invoke exceptions to the protection of the right to life from the moment of conception.”
The UN Committee Against Torture and several international committees on human rights have found that, in certain circumstances, denial of access to abortion services can lead to physical or mental suffering that amounts to torture or ill-treatment. The committees have also established that the total ban on abortion denies women’s right to non-discrimination and equality in the enjoyment of other human rights.
The comprehensive reform of the Dominican Republic’s penal code was promulgated by President Danilo Medina on 19 December 2014. It followed almost a decade of political and societal debate, but the articles regulating exceptions in the criminalization of abortion were the most contentious.
Last year, President Medina vetoed the law reforming the penal code passed by Congress which maintained the pre-existing ban on abortion in all circumstances. Instead, he promoted decriminalization of abortion in three circumstances, which Congress then included in the final version of the penal code reforms which was adopted on 16 December 2014 before being sent to the President.