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Dominican Republic’s Senate Doubles Down on Abortion Ban in Criminal Code

Bill Reduces Penalties for Sexual Violence, Excludes LGBT People from Protection

A demonstration to demand legal abortion, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on May 23, 2021. © 2021 Erika Santelices/AFP via Getty Images

A deeply problematic bill for a new Criminal Code is now approaching final approval in the Dominican Republic's Senate. The bill, which the Senate approved on first review on June 26, maintains the country's complete ban on abortion. It also reduces penalties for sexual violence within marriage, classified as ‘non-consensual sexual activity,’ and continues to exclude sexual orientation from the list of characteristics protected from discrimination, thus failing to afford equal protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The Dominican Republic is one of only five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that maintains a total prohibition on abortion and imposes incarceration for women and girls seeking abortions, as well as for those performing them. For decades, women's rights organizations have called for access to safe and legal abortion.

Local organizations have urged Congress to amend the penal code to legalize abortion under three circumstances: when the woman’s life is at risk, when the pregnancy is not viable, or in cases of rape or incest. They also call for amendments that protect LGBT people against discrimination and protect women and girls from all forms of violence, including sexual violence within marriage.

The criminalization of abortion is incompatible with the Dominican Republic's international human rights obligations. Denying girls, women, and other pregnant people’s access to abortion is a form of discrimination that jeopardizes human rights including to life; health; freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; nondiscrimination; privacy; and access to information. Human rights treaty bodies have consistently urged the Dominican Republic to decriminalize abortion entirely, or at minimum, to ensure safe and legal access when the health of the pregnant woman or girl is threatened and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or involving severe fetal impairment.

Decriminalizing abortion is an urgent public health and human rights imperative. Authorities should act swiftly to uphold the rights of women and girls by allowing them to make autonomous decisions about their lives.

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