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31st May 2017, 10:17:46 UTC

Senators in the Dominican Republic must scrap one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion and begin to protect the rights of millions of women and girls, Amnesty International said ahead of a vote that could decriminalise abortion in certain circumstances.

“Senators in the Dominican Republic have a golden opportunity to protect the lives of millions of women and girls. They must seize the moment and scrap one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws contained in a Criminal Code which dates back to the 19th century,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Later today, Senators are expected to discuss President Danilo Medina’s recommendations to reform how the country’s criminal code treats women´s lives and choices. He requested that abortion is decriminalised in three circumstances: in pregnancies that pose a risk to the life of the woman, are the result of rape or incest, and where the foetus will not survive outside the womb.

The reform would mean be a decisive move away from what is currently one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world.

Provisions on abortion in the country’s current Criminal Code, which dates back to 1884, criminalize women who have an abortion in all circumstances, even when their life of the woman is at risk or when the foetus has no chance of survival.

Women who have an abortion face imprisonment of two to three years. Any health professional who facilitates or assists in abortions can be punished with four to 10 years of jail time.

These draconian restrictions on abortion have resulted in tragic violations of women’s and girls’ rights to life and health.

In 2012, Rosaura Almonte, who suffered from leukemia, died from hypovolemic shock after she was denied life-saving chemotherapy on the basis it would have affected the seven-week foetus she was carrying.

The World Health Organization and medical associations said criminalization of abortion only leads to women seeking unsafe clandestine abortions that put their lives and health at risk. The United Nations Committee Against Torture and several other international human rights bodies have found that denying women access to abortion services can, in certain circumstances, amount to torture and other ill treatment.

In a report last year, Amnesty International documented how women across the Americas were forced to endure abuse akin to torture and other ill treatment as a consequence of the criminalization of abortion.