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  • Women protest against the abortion ban in Dominican Republic.

    Women protest against the abortion ban in Dominican Republic. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 July 2017

"This historic event marks a milestone for those who defend the right to autonomy," Colectiva Mujer y Salud, a non-profit organization said in a statement.

Opening avenues for discussion over decriminalizing abortion, the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies ruled against a new Penal Code on Tuesday that would have prohibited abortion under any circumstances.

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"This historic event marks a milestone for those who defend the right to autonomy," Colectiva Mujer y Salud, a non-profit organization, said in a statement at the end of the Lower House vote.

Hours before the meeting, members of the human rights organizations and women health collectives held a demonstration outside the Congress.

According to EFE, the deputies couldn't reach a consensus on the issue in nearly five hours of discussion. The vote ended with only 84 votes in favor but needed 110 votes to criminalize abortion in all cases. The piece of proposed legislation was rejected by 63 deputies, stalling the adversarial proposal that would have impacted millions of women's lives in the country.

According to the Dominican Constitution, when a bill is vetoed by the president of the Republic, as in the case of abortion, a three-quarters vote of the two legislative chambers is required to reject these observations.

Since the proposal didn't meet the qualifying majority, it will have to be reintroduced in the National Congress. Under the current Criminal Code, that dates 1884, women will be penalized if they abort in any circumstances including if their life is at risk or if the fetus has no chance of survival.

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Women who have an abortion face imprisonment of two to three years. And a health professional who facilitates or assists in abortions can face imprisonment of anywhere between four and 10 years.

According to the country's Ministry of Public Health, unsafe abortions cause 10 percent of maternal deaths. Data from local women's rights organizations states there are nearly 35,000 abortions in the country each year.

In May, Dominican Republic's President Danilo Medina also recommended reform of the age-old repressive law that harms women's lives. According to Amnesty International, Medina requested that abortion should be decriminalized 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 fetus will not survive outside the womb.

The Dominican Republic is one of the countries with the highest rates of death of women related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium, with 106 deaths per 100,000 births, while the regional average is 77, according to the report Follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

The news comes as a study by the Ministry of Public Health has found that Haitian women account for nearly 30 percent of maternal deaths in the Dominican Republic. According to Guzman Minister of Public Health Marcelino, Haitian pregnant women cross the border into the Dominican, seeking better health care services. Sadly many suffer fatal complications for lack of proper prenatal care.

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