Dominican Feminists Demand End to Country’s Total Abortion Ban, as Green Wave Continues in Latin America

Apr 21, 2021
12:43 PM

A green wave of women’s rights protests has been sweeping cities in Latin America over the past few years. This photo is from a protest in Colombia. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic — On Monday evening, National Police in Santo Domingo forcefully evicted a group of activists who have set camp in front of the country’s national palace. The camp —a gathering where activists host speak-outs while staying in tents— has been stationed in front of the palace since March 11, pushing for Congress to depenalize abortion in three special cases called “Las 3 causales.”

The group of feminists use the hashtag #Las3CausalesVan and wear green, representing the latest in a green wave of reproductive rights that has spread across Latin America and the Caribbean. The activists are pushing for this change as Congress debates the nation’s penal code. The current penal code dates back to 1884.

“We are manifesting in front of Congress to demand respect to the life, health and dignity of women, emphasizing the inclusion of the three causals in the penal code,” Saray Figuereo, one of the activists involved in the movement, told Latino Rebels. “And we won’t let them make up an excuse that they’ll include them in a special law.”

Figuereo attended an initial protest in front of Congress on March 7 and another protest in the town of San Juan de la Maguana.

The movement for the “Las 3 causales” (3 “causals” or “grounds/circumstances” in English) demands the approval of abortion in three extreme cases:

  1. When the pregnancy is a byproduct of a rape or incest
  2. When it represents a risk for the woman (or girl)
  3. When the fetus is nonviable.

“It’s a shame that year after year, manifestation after manifestation, we have to continue asking for our autonomies over our bodies to be respected and that our freedom to make decisions about our sexual and reproductive health aren’t criminalized,” Figuereo said.

Abortion in Latin America

On December 30, feminists in Argentina had a watershed moment abortion was legalized up to the 14th week of pregnancy. Senators voted for the bill—with 38 in favor, 29 against and one abstention. This was considered a historic win in a region with some of the most restrictive abortion laws.

Argentina added itself to countries like Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, French Guyana, where abortion is legal during the first weeks of gestation, as well Puerto Rico and some specific cities in Mexico. Guatemala, Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Belize, Colombia and Brazil allow abortions only under certain causals or circumstances.

The Dominican Republic is one of only five countries in Latin America where abortion isn’t allowed under any circumstances. The other countries are Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In El Salvador, one woman’s case was recently reviewed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights: Manuela. Manuela was sentenced to 30 years after she lost a pregnancy, and was accused of having an unlawful abortion. In 2010, she died while in prison.

In Chile, where abortion is legal under the three causals, activists are fighting for more access, while often also wearing green. One woman’s case caught the national attention, Javiera, after public administration prescribed thousands of women faulty birth control pills.

Javiera and 170 other women had unwanted pregnancies as a result. She decided to petition for an abortion under the 3 causals, saying that her health was at risk because of the psychological stress this caused her.

The Dominican Case  

In 2020, the Dominican Republic held a historic election where Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party won the presidential elections—the first time an opposing party won after a 16-year rule by the Party for Dominican Liberation. Previously, he had been in favor of the three causals.

In an interview with El País, he said, “Look, I disagree, as does the majority of the population, not only in the Dominican Republic but in the world, with free abortion, but I do think that there must be causals that allow the interruption of pregnancy. That has been the official position of our party.”

On Monday during an interview with EFE, he said it was a religious issue.

“Everyone knows I’m in favor of the three causals, and in that sense, it’s a decision that implies a lot of themes, not only one of health but also a religious one,” he said.

Towards the end of the march, members of the Catholic church and evangelists organized a caravan against the depenalization of abortion. The Archdiocese of Santo Domingo organized the march, saying its purpose was to “send a strong and clear message that we’re a country that protests and defends life in all its stages.”

Activists like Gina M. Goico, who organized a protest in defense of “Las 3 causales” in New York City, said that often those affected by these laws are Black women whose voices are constantly left outside of media, and whose lives are at stake.

“The thing is that these are people with a lot of power and the actual capacity to choose that are choosing over the lives of Black and poor folks in the Dominican Republic,” she told Latino Rebels. “As someone who has had an abortion in the Dominican Republic and understands the privilege that I had since I was middle class, I got the connections, but it was really expensive to do it, and I lost who was my doctor who gave me the medicine to perform this abortion, he like said to me, ‘I can’t see you again,’ so there’s like a lot of shame around it.”

Goico said she began fighting for abortion rights 11 years ago and helped organize a protest shortly after migrating to the U.S. in 2012 when the cause of Rosaura “Esperancita” Almonte Hernández caught the national attention. Esperancita passed away in 2012 at age 16 when she was denied treatment for leukemia because she was pregnant. In February of 2020, her case was heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Reproductive rights in the Dominican Republic have long been an ongoing issue. The ratio of maternal mortality in the country is 150 per 100,000 births, higher than the average of 100 in Latin America.

“It’s been over 25 years fighting for this and all the lives that we keep losing, especially marginalized lives that are not even valuable enough for the media and the press to cover them, because the erasure of these voices is constant in the Dominican Republic,” Goico said.

Due to the criminalization of abortions, exact figures are difficult to find. A study using numbers from over 10 years ago, 2011 and 2009, found that between 13 percent and 20 percent of maternal deaths in the country are caused by induced abortions held under insecure consequences.

The study held by the NGO ProFamilia states, “It is evident that restrictive legislation in relation to abortions doesn’t lead to the diminution of voluntary abortions, increasing then the mortality rate with origins in the practice of abortions under unsafe circumstances.”

‘It’s About Human Rights’

On Sunday, news outlets reported that at least 12 activists from the camp had been allegedly intoxicated after eating sweets that were sent to the camp as a “gift.” Some of those reportedly intoxicated were also journalists at the scene. Authorities are investigating the case.

On Monday evening, the police then evicted the camp using knives on the tents, citing violation of the country’s current curfew as a result of COVID-19.

Still, activists and supporters returned to the camp on Tuesday. The  Women’s Minister Mayra Jiménez, also spoke at the camp in a show of solidarity.

In a statement, the institution said it was worried about the actions of the police, stating “The institution considers that the act by the activists corresponds with the freedom of assembly as consecrated by the Constitution.”

For Figuereo, who will be returning to the camp, the end of a total abortion ban is also about not revictimizing the people who are in gestation. “It gives people who suffered an abortion, have a nonviable pregnancy, or whose lives are at risk, the opportunity to choose over their bodies without blaming them or criminalizing them,” she said. “There’d be a significative reduction of clandestine abortions.”

In January of 2021, the Dominican government officially prohibited child marriage, a major win for the local feminist movement. The push for “Las 3 causales” is also being tied to a larger movement for reproductive rights and accessible sex education.

“It seems absurd to say this, but the voluntary interruption of an abortion is not a luxury, nor a pleasure, but a necessity, and it’s about human rights and related to public health, which must be accompanied by integral sex education and real actions from the state that reduces cases of incest and violation,” Figuereo said.


Amanda Alcántara is an award-winning freelance journalist and former digital editor for Futuro Media. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she is also the author of Chula. Twitter: @YoSoy_Amanda.