A Mother’s Plea: How Many More Dominican Women Must Die Under Draconian Abortion Bans?

“The Dominican Republic is so concerned with preventing any abortion at any cost, they are sacrificing the well-being and lives of women and girls like my daughter.”

A Mother’s Plea: How Many More Dominican Women Must Die Under Draconian Abortion Bans?
“Women—including women living in poverty—deserve health care, not criminalization, writes Rosa Hernández, pictured above in the camp in front of the Dominican Congress, advocating for decriminalizing abortion. (@Rd3Causales)

My daughter, Rosaura Almonte (Esperancita), was a young girl with big dreams and her whole life ahead of her when she died at age 16 after doctors denied her the chemotherapy she needed to save her life because she was pregnant. For nearly nine years, I’ve been without my daughter because the laws in my country put the value of her pregnancy above the value of her life. 

When the doctors denied her treatment, I was told that this was about “saving two lives”—but the truth is that neither her suffering, nor her incredible, vibrant life, were taken into consideration. The Dominican Republic is so concerned with preventing any abortion at any cost, that they are sacrificing the well-being and lives of women and girls like my daughter. Instead of taking joy in watching my daughter chart her own path and build her life, her death has become emblematic of what’s at stake in the fight for abortion rights in the Dominican Republic. If my country truly values and respects women and girls, Congress must take action to protect our rights to health, well-being and life. 

Right now, the Congress of the Dominican Republic—one of the few nations in the world where abortion is illegal in all circumstances—is weighing whether to update the country’s penal code to decriminalize abortion in certain instances, including if the life of the woman who is pregnant is at risk. In essence, they are trying to decide if more women have to die as my daughter did under the cruel, draconian ban.

A Mother’s Plea: How Many More Dominican Women Must Die Under Draconian Abortion Bans?
 A camp in front of the Dominican Congress, where women’s rights activists advocate for changes in the law to decriminalize abortion in the country. (@Rd3Causales)

For more than two decades, the Dominican Republic’s legislative branch has debated a new penal code, and now that my country is finally revisiting debates around the criminalization of abortion, the legislative branch has the power to save lives.

Specifically, advocates like myself are demanding three exceptions to the ban:

  1. Abortion should be legally available when the life of the women is in danger;
  2. when the fetus has complications, meaning it would not survive outside the womb; and
  3. when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

This would help prevent the needless deaths of so many women. A complete ban on abortion kills women—especially those who are poorest and most vulnerable.

A Mother’s Plea: How Many More Dominican Women Must Die Under Draconian Abortion Bans?
Tents full of activists camping out in front of the Dominican Congress. (@Rd3Causales)

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When my daughter needed chemotherapy to fight for her life, doctors denied it because the current law was so rigid that they prioritized saving the pregnancy over saving her life. My daughter was not even seeking an abortion to end her pregnancy; she was seeking medical care. Lack of access to safe abortion care disproportionately hurts low-income and marginalized women, who are most likely to be jailed or to suffer medical complications and death. My daughter may not have died if she had been able to travel abroad for the health care she needed. It shouldn’t need to come down to that. Women—including women living in poverty—deserve health care, not criminalization.

A Mother’s Plea: How Many More Dominican Women Must Die Under Draconian Abortion Bans?
“I’ve been fighting for the decriminalization of abortion so that my daughter’s story is never repeated. … I urge the Dominican government to act now before more women and girls die.” Pictured: Rosa Hernández, posing in the school where she works. (Fran Afonso)

For the last eight years, along with my Women’s Link Worldwide attorneys and the women’s movement in the Dominican Republic, I’ve been fighting for the decriminalization of abortion so that my daughter’s story is never repeated. (Unfortunately there have already been at least two similar cases of needless deaths in the near-decade we’ve waited.)

I urge the Dominican government to act now before more women and girls die. President Luis Abinader and members of Congress have claimed they are committed to women’s rights. President Abinader has even acknowledged that he understands the importance of the three exceptions. It’s time he and his party start acting like it.

No more debate; Dominican women need action. Now.

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About

Rosa Hernández is a teacher, mother and family matriarch living in the Dominican Republic, where the nation’s complete ban on abortion claimed the life of her 16-year-old daughter, "Esperancita,” who died after she was denied life-saving chemotherapy becausse she was pregnant.