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Abortion in the Dominican Republic
Abortion in the Dominican Republic is illegal under all circumstances. Unlike several other Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay, where abortion is permitted when the woman’s life would otherwise be in danger, the Dominican law prohibits the practice under all circumstances. With such rigid laws in place, every year, thousands of Dominican women either induce abortions themselves or visit a clandestine establishment ill-equipped to perform the procedure. The reasons for this include the strong influence of religion, as well as the lack of sexual education for the country’s youth. The results are unwanted pregnancies, mainly in young teenage Dominican women, who then risk their physical health, sometimes even their lives opting for a backstreet abortion.

The statistics on abortion are almost impossible to calculate. In a country where the practice itself is considered illegal, it is officially assumed that abortions are not taking place; obviously, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Just ask any employee at one of the country’s many public hospitals. They can tell you whether the law is succeeding in putting a stop to abortion in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Milton Cordero began working with abortion in the country’s public hospitals with the arrival of an international organization named Engenderhealth in 1980. He was an integral part of the organization that focused its attention on improving the post- abortion services offered in the country’s public hospitals. These services were offered to women after an abortion had taken place and usually consisted of a general cleaning of the woman’s uterus. Afterwards, she was free to go home. With Engenderhealth’s assistance, post-abortion services were extended to treat women on both a physical and mental level. They now include emotional and psychological support, as well as family planning, and can be found at public hospitals throughout the country. Although abortion is illegal, these post-abortion services are permitted, since hospitals are only treating the women and not performing the abortions.

According to Dr. Cordero, some 90,000 abortions are performed in the Dominican Republic each year, making it the third leading cause of maternal death in the country. These abortions are either self- induced, or are performed by a backstreet practitioner. In either case, there are serious risks.

Dr. Cordero cites one common method women use to induce abortions, by taking over-the-counter pills that stimulate uterine contractions, leading to the expulsion of the fetus. He explains that women in the Dominican Republic take these pills themselves, often without knowing the proper dosage. An overdose can cause serious hemorrhaging, but the problem doesn’t end there. These women suffering from hemorrhages then visit low-quality clinics, which could end up leading to further complications. In establishments such as these, the cleaning of the uterus is poorly performed and some women end up with a perforated or infected uterus, which can cause future reproductive problems, and in some cases, death.

With so many abortions being performed on a yearly basis in the Dominican Republic, the practice itself is obviously a lucrative underground business. Thousands of Dominican women put their physical health and life on the line in order to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy. The cost can be great, not only physically speaking but financially as well. According to Dr. Cordero, the cost of an abortion varies so greatly that it cannot be gauged. Effectively, the woman’s economic status often determines the price.

“How much a doctor charges depends on the agreement he/she makes with the woman and her ability to pay,” says Dr. Cordero. “(The cost) can reach an enormous amount or a small amount. It depends on the clinic, the doctor, and the woman’s socio-economic status. A poor woman will have to go to an ill-equipped establishment and her health can be affected because of bad practice. In contrast, a better-off woman can go to someone with better training and skills, at a more appropriate establishment with lower risks of experiencing complications.”

But what does a Dominican woman go through when she decides to have an abortion at one of these backstreet establishments? The stories about abortion clinics are interesting to say the least. They paint pictures of secret underground facilities where Dominican women sign contracts that release clandestine doctors of any liability, putting their life in the hands of someone who is considered a criminal in their country. In any case, these stories are hearsay, since they rarely come from women who have had an abortion: these women are much less likely to speak out.
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