07.26.12 – CNN.com is reporting that a pregnant teenager in the Dominican Republic is being denied cancer treatment because of the country’s abortion ban. The 16-year-old is dying of acute leukemia, but doctors are reluctant to give her aggressive chemotherapy because she’s nine weeks pregnant.
The treatment would likely terminate her pregnancy, and the Dominican Republic bans abortion under any circumstance even if a woman’s life or health is at risk.
Rosa Hernandez, the girl’s mother, is trying to convince doctors and the Dominican government to make an exception so that her daughter’s life can be saved. “My daughter’s life is first. I know that [abortion] is a sin and that it goes against the law … but my daughter’s health is first,” Hernandez said.
According to Article 37 of the Dominican constitution, “the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death.” Dominican courts have interpreted this as a strict mandate against abortion. Article 37, passed in 2009, also abolished the death penalty.
Miguel Montalvo, the director of the bioethics council that rules on the application of the law, says the council is leaning toward allowing the treatment. “At the end of the day the patient may decide for himself or herself. In this case, the family may decide what’s more convenient for the patient,” Montalvo said.
Women’s and human rights groups are outraged, saying the girl should have received chemotherapy immediately.
Lilliam Fondeur, a women’s rights activist, complains that conservative politics is preventing necessary treatment to save the teenager’s life.
“How can it be possible that so much time is being wasted? That the treatment hasn’t begun yet because they’re still meeting, trying to decide if she has the right to receive the treatment to save her life—that’s unacceptable,” Fondeur said.
… And while the debate rages on around the country, back at the hospital the clock keeps ticking for the 16-year-old pregnant girl.
The good news is the Center for Reproductive Rights is currently battling another absolute abortion ban in Latin America in the Central American country of El Salvador where women are not only denied abortion services, but arbitrarily thrown into prison for even suffering miscarriages or complications in their pregnancies. The case is currently before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a favorable ruling could have implications throughout the region.
Our track record is good on the issue. Last year, we won a similar case on behalf of a young girl in Peru who had been denied a timely spinal surgery because the procedure would have required terminating her pregnancy. She was left paralyzed from the neck down, as a result. In that case, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women condemned Peru for violating the human rights of the young woman, and ruled that the government must ease its restrictions on abortion.