The total ban on abortion in the Dominican Republic - even if the mother's life is at risk, the fetus cannot survive or the pregnancy is the result of rape - represents a threat to the life and health of women and violates their rights, says a report by Human Rights Watch released on Monday.
The organization interviewed 10 women and girls between age 15-43 in four provinces who had become pregnant at least once, along with dozens of health care and social services providers, including other experts.
The result is an 78-page study titled "It's Your Decision, It's Your Life: The Total Criminalization of Abortion in the Dominican Republic" documenting evidence that women and girls who face unwanted pregnancies often get clandestine abortions, which often pose a serious risk to their health and even result in their deaths in some cases.
"We've seen desperate women taking dangerous measures, like using home remedies to cause abortion, including hitting their belly with stones, refusing to eat and drink, or taking unprescribed medications," HRW communications director Emma Daily told EFE.
In addition, "we've listened to rather powerful stories of women who have suffered mistreatment by medical professionals, including in cases of spontaneous abortions, leaving the patient waiting for too long without being attended to or doing ... procedures without any kind of medicine to alleviate the pain," she said.
Other medical professionals "would like to help the patients, but the law prevents it. If a woman fears that they might report her for undergoing an abortion, she won't be truthful with her doctor, and he will not have all the information for appropriate treatment," Daly said.
In addition, because of the sanctions, health care providers cannot interrupt pregnancies without risking their careers and risking up to 20-year prison terms.
For women who end their pregnancies, the penalty is up to two years in prison, although "Women and girls in the Dominican Republic have always defied the abortion ban, but they have been forced to put their health and lives on the line to end pregnancies clandestinely," said Margaret Wurth, HRW's senior women's rights researcher and the author of the report.
"Congress should decriminalize abortion and ensure that women and girls have access to safe and legal abortion by trained providers, instead of leaving them to use dangerous underground methods," she added.
According to Public Health Ministry figures, almost half of all pregnancies in the country are unplanned or unwanted, and at least 8 percent of the maternal deaths in the country result from complications from illegal or spontaneous abortions.
The Dominican Penal Code, drafted by the National Congress in 2014, has been vetoed twice by President Danilo Medina because it bans abortion in all cases.
In April, the congressional lower house's Justice Committee presented to lawmakers a bill decriminalizing abortion in the three special cases, a move that has sparked strong reactions from "right to life" advocates.