Dominican Republic Decriminalizes Abortion in Limited Circumstances

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(PRESS RELEASE) President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic signed the country’s amended Penal Code on Friday that will finally allow women access to safe abortion services in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment and when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk—a momentous step toward expanding access to safe and legal abortion.

Last week, the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies reconvened to discuss amendments to the Penal Code after President Medina called on Congress to make the necessary changes to allow safe and legal abortion in limited circumstances, in line with international human rights standards.

The Dominican Republic becomes the 36th country to decriminalize abortion in certain circumstances in the last 20 years, ending the country’s absolute ban on abortion and the harsh penalties associated with it.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“No longer will women facing a pregnancy from rape or life-threatening complications be forced to live under a cloud of fear in the Dominican Republic.

“We commend President Medina and Congress for taking this historic step toward protecting and respecting women’s fundamental human rights to reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion.” 

The Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies plans to draft a bill to regulate abortion in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairments to present during the next legislative term which begins on February 27, 2015.

The Dominican Republic’s absolute ban on abortion has led to more than 90,000 unsafe abortions occurring in the country each year. There are now only five countries left in Latin America—Chile, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua—that completely ban abortion with no explicit exceptions.

“Although the Dominican Republic has only allowed legal abortion in limited circumstances, it is still an important step forward for women’s rights in the country,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We must now work to hold the leadership of the Dominican Republic accountable and ensure this critical change is fully implemented and women are able to access the essential reproductive health care they need and deserve.”

According to a recent Center report, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress toward improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reducing rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.