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Last week, lawmakers in the Dominican Republic gave their final approval to a pro-life constitutional change despite fierce criticism and pressure from UN agencies and abortion advocates to defeat the measure.

The Dominican Republic’s National Assembly easily ratified a revision of Article 30 in a vote of 128 in favor with 32 opposed. The article now states that “the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.”

While the measure was widely supported by Dominican parliamentarians, it met with staunch opposition from international abortion proponents and even UN agencies, which are officially neutral on abortion.

Last April, when the right-to-life provision was first debated, two UN officials interjected themselves into the debate. Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, called on Dominican legislators to consider liberalizing abortion so women would not be forced into “unsafe procedures.” Kastberg also suggested that lawmakers would be “hypocrites” unconcerned with the nation’s higher-than-average teen birth rate.

United Nations Program for Human Development coordinator Miguel Ceara Hatton criticized the article stating the constitutional revision encourages the incidence of clandestine abortions and maternal deaths and disregards a woman’s right to life. Hatton also took aim at the Catholic Church stating that it had “influenced in everything” and that, “for following a dogma [the Church] has become a source and a motor for social exclusion in the Dominican Republic. The dogma is placed ahead of the needs of the population, health, housing and better living conditions. ”

Contrary to the positions these UN officials took, the United Nations website maintains that “the legal status of abortion is the sovereign right of each nation” and that the organization “does not provide support for abortion or abortion related activities anywhere in the world.”

Non-governmental organizations have also condemned the constitutional change.

Amnesty International (AI) has been at the center of an ongoing campaign against the Dominican right-to-life provision.

In a report released earlier this year, AI claimed that the Dominican Republic’s constitutional and legal reforms “could lead to violations of women’s human rights” and that laws penalizing abortion would lead to increased maternal mortality.

Before the final vote last week, AI called on the Congress of the Dominican Republic to reject the right to life from “conception until death” part of Article 30.

The constitutional reform in the Dominican Republic echoes similar changes enacted at the state level in Mexico, where 12 states have recently adopted constitutional amendments declaring that life begins at conception.

These follow the criminalization of abortion under all circumstances by Nicaragua in 2006, and El Salvador in 1998.

As they had in the Nicaragua case, abortion advocates rallied against the abortion ban in Mexico by arguing that prohibiting abortions would lead to a greater increase in maternal mortality since women would arguably have to turn to “unsafe abortions.”

Critics, however, have pointed out that there is no substantiated evidence for this claim and preliminary evidence from Nicaraguan government statistics even shows a decline in maternal deaths since restricting abortion in 2006.

When formally adopted, the Dominican Republic will join other Latin American nations whose constitutions explicitly protect unborn life, including Chile, Paraguay, and Guatemala.

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[September 24, 2009, Friday FAX, Volume 12, Number 41, Samantha Singson, NEW YORK,]