GENEVA (25 January 2017) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* today urged all Dominican Republic legislators to protect women and girls’ rights to sexual and reproductive health in the country by supporting President Danilo Medina’s position against regressive amendments of the Penal Code regarding abortion.
The experts’ call comes as the Commission appointed to examine the presidential observations to the amendments proposed by Congress prepares to issue its report, which the Senate will subsequently vote on. On 19 December 2016 President Danilo Medina vetoed the new version of the Criminal Code representing a grave regression for women’s right to health.
“We sincerely hope that the Dominican Congress will finally seize this historical moment to mark its commitment towards eliminating gender discrimination in its legislation and to advance women’s and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights, in accordance with their international human rights obligations,” they stated.
Under the Congress proposed amendment, terminating a pregnancy would only be available in one case: when there is a risk for the life of the pregnant woman or girl. However, the 2014 version of the text partially decriminalized the access to abortion services under three circumstances, including when the life of a pregnant women or girl was at risk, when the foetus could not survive outside the womb and when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
“Denying women and girls’ access to safe abortion services in cases of health reasons, serious foetal impairment and pregnancy resulting from rape and incest, will certainly cause excessive and long-lasting physical and psychological suffering to many women,” the experts stressed.
“Reducing access to such health services violates women’s and girls’ right to be protected against gender-based discrimination and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” they said.
The UN experts also warned that restrictive abortion laws exacerbate the risks to the health and safety of the affected women, driving them to undergo sometimes desperate life-threating solutions. “It has been demonstrated that countries with easy access to information and to modern methods of contraception and where abortion is legal, have the lowest rates of abortion,” they noted.
The human rights experts pointed out that this is the last chance, under the current Government, for the situation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights to be improved since President Medina had rejected a similar reform proposed in 2014.
“Should President Medina’s observations not be adopted, this would be a tragedy for women in the Dominican Republic and a deplorable example for the region”, the experts concluded.
The President’s observations could only be circumvented if both chambers of the Congress (Chamber of Deputies and Senate) adopt the initial amendments proposed with a majority of two-thirds of the members.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Since the beginning of the debate on the amendments of the Penal Code in the Dominican Republic in 2014, the group of experts have communicated their concerns to the Government on several occasions. Dominican Republic remains one of the Latin American countries with the highest maternal mortality ratio. According to the World Health Organization, Dominican Republic had a maternal mortality ratio of 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 while there is a ratio of 67 deaths per 100,000 in the GRULAC region.
Unsafe abortion accounts for about 13% of maternal mortality globally. In some countries, the percentage of maternal deaths resulting from unsafe abortion is much higher, accounting for up to 30%. Maternal mortality violates the rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination. In the framework of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, States committed to reduce greatly the number of deaths and morbidity from unsafe abortion.
(*) The UN experts:Alda Facio, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.