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The Dominican Republic’s total abortion ban is endangering the lives of teenage girls

Posted by
Christobel Hastings
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No teenage girl should be forced to endure a backstreet abortion in 2019, but a worrying new report from the Human Rights Watch has found that unsafe terminations and teenage pregnancies in the Dominican Republic are on the rise.

If you care about women’s reproductive rights, you’ll likely feel genuinely alarmed at the abortion restrictions that have been introduced in a number of red US states this year. But even as we keep tabs with the anti-choice legislation being passed by Republican lawmakers in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Alabama, we can’t forget the women further afield that are also battling attacks on their right to choose.

According to a worrying new report from the Human Rights Watch, there’s reason to be especially concerned about the state of play in the Dominican Republic, as a rise in unsafe terminations and teenage pregnancies are putting the health and lives of adolescent girls in danger.

The report, ‘I Felt Like the World Was Falling Down on Me’: Adolescent Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Dominican Republic, found that the absence of a sex education curriculum, barriers to accessing contraception, and a total ban on abortion in all cases in the Latin American country has contributed to young women being denied their sexual and reproductive rights.

After surveying 30 girls and women who became pregnant before turning 18, as well as a range of students, LGBT youth, healthcare and social service providers, it was found that the Dominican Republic, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, was forcing adolescent girls to continue with unwanted pregnancies and clandestine abortions, ultimately endangering their health and lives.

The report underlines that abortion restrictions do not have the wellbeing of the pregnant woman at heart, a myth widely perpetuated by anti-choice campaigners. Instead, there is only one tragic outcome: that “laws criminalising abortion create pervasive fear and drive abortion underground, forcing women and girls to resort to unsafe measures to end unwanted pregnancies.”

“Girls need to be equipped with the information and health services to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and to make informed choices about their bodies and relationships,” said Margaret Wurth, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By denying their sexual and reproductive rights, Dominican authorities are failing to give girls and young women every opportunity to continue their education and live healthy, successful, and fulfilling lives.”

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There is no quick-fix way to remedy the dire state of affairs, but it’s clear that decriminalising abortion would remove the major barrier to young women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare. The HRW also emphasises that were a comprehensive sex and relationships education rolled out in schools, young women would be significantly more informed about their bodily autonomy and choices. Sadly, although plans to develop a rights-based sexuality education were announced in 2015, there has yet to be any progress in carrying it out nationwide.

“A teenage girl’s life and plans should not be derailed by an unwanted pregnancy,” Wurth continued. “Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic should ensure that adolescent girls can get reliable sexual and reproductive health information, including at school, and adequate health services, including safe and legal abortion.”

As the report saliently points out, denying girls and women access to reproductive healthcare is a form of discrimination, and actually jeopardises a range of human rights. No teenager should be forced to have a backstreet abortion in 2019. 

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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