Love them Both: Personhood and Women’s Health in the Dominican Republic
by Josh Craddock
In 2009, the Dominican Republic overwhelmingly approved a new constitution which ensures that “the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.” Despite popular support from the Dominican people, a recent article by pro-choice blogger Dania Santana calls the abortion ban “disastrous” for women’s health on the island nation. But do the facts support her assertions?
Relying on data from the Guttmacher Institute, Ms. Santana estimates that 100,000 illegal abortions are performed there each year, even though such estimates are proven to be wildly overstated. According to a recent peer-reviewed study, Guttmacher’s methodology typically relies on data sources like “incomplete in-hospital records as well as subjective opinion surveys regarding induced abortion figures.” In Colombia, “Guttmacher Institute likely overestimates figures in this region at least by 18-fold.”
Ms. Santana also makes the unsubstantiated assertion that abortion is now one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in the Dominican Republic. Based on the same flawed methodology, Guttmacher also considers “causes of death that are unrelated to induced abortion, including flawed denominators of live birth.” In Mexico, Guttmacher overestimated “maternal and abortion-related mortality” by “up to 35%.”
“In other words, estimates drawn through the methodology developed by the Guttmacher Institute is beyond what is empirically possible,” the study’s authors conclude.
In reality, the evidence indicates a correlation between severely restricting abortion and decreasing maternal mortality. A recent Chilean study shows that prohibiting abortion did not increase Chile’s maternal mortality rate. Instead, maternal mortality continued to fall even as abortion became more restricted. Ireland, which has maintained its ban on abortion despite overwhelming international pressures, consistently boasts one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world (#1 in 2005, #3 in 2008) according to UNICEF. The bottom line is that abortion does not improve maternal health, in fact, it usually worsens it.
In cases where the mother and child’s lives are at risk, medical professionals act to protect both patients. One of the authors of the Dominican personhood provision, Pelegrin Castillo, affirms that “doctors are authorized by the constitution to treat the patient. They don’t have to worry about anything. They have the mandate of protecting both lives.”
Of course, illegal abortions do happen, often under hazardous conditions for women. Why? Many women in developing countries are encouraged to perform dangerous, self-induced abortions by international abortion advocates! Ms. Santana writes about the damage of self-induced abortions, like those promoted by the World Health Organization’s technical guidance on abortion, which actually encourages the illegal do-it-yourself use of misoprostol (one of the drugs in RU-486).
Misuse of the drug is very dangerous for women (not to mention their babies) and causes exactly the sorts of complications that Ms. Santana is concerned about. As Drs. Yoshihara and Oas point out in their white paper critiquing the technical guidance, if international abortion advocates really cared about women’s health, they wouldn’t promote “abortion practices for women in developing countries that have been rejected by medical experts in the developed world.” But for the pro-choice lobby, it’s not about health; it’s about abortion.
Focusing on tangible solutions, such as improving the quality of pre-natal and post-natal health care, increasing access to antibiotics for infections, and increasing system capacity for the number of mothers seeking care, are the most effective means of reducing maternal mortality in the Dominican Republic. Calling for action on abortion is merely agenda-driven obfuscation.
Josh Craddock is a United Nations liaison for Personhood Education.