Teen denied chemotherapy due to Dominican abortion laws, dies

To save a girl’s life or to save her fetus, that is the question.

After a grueling fight with Dominican Republic’s strict abortion laws, a pregnant teenager died last week, inciting public outrage and an international debate.

The 16-year-old, nicknamed “Esperanza” — which translates to “Hope” — by the media, was a leukemia patient. Esperanza was admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy, but doctors were reluctant to give her treatment after discovering she was 13 weeks pregnant. Doctors believed that the chemotherapy would harm her fetus, and would thus violate the Dominican Republic Constitution’s strict abortion ban.

“She wasn’t asking for an abortion,” says sophomore Aisha Santos. “She was asking for treatment so she could survive and the hospital seemed to prioritize the fetus’ potential to live more than someone who was already living.”

Article 37 of the Dominican Republic Constitution states, “the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death.” Doctors feared violating the law if they proceeded with the treatment and the teenager were to miscarry as a result.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the doctor,” says Carmen Barroso, Western Hemisphere regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, to Everyday Health. “When there’s a law that says life has to be protected from conception, it’s not easy for a doctor to challenge that. He might be prosecuted for murder.”

According to CNN, after much deliberation, doctors administered chemotherapy 20 days after the teenager was admitted to the hospital. However, her body didn’t respond to the treatment, nor a  blood transfusion. Soon after treatment, she had a miscarriage before going into cardiac arrest. Esperanza died last week.

Her death has sparked not only a national discussion, but an international debate on the mandates of countries which strictly enforce blanket abortion laws. Her story has made lawmakers reconsider abortion bans and consider whether a law should have exceptions to more complex cases such as this one. Many are also suggesting that laws should not be enforced to the extent of jeopardizing another individual’s life.

In the U.S., Planned Parenthood continues to stand firmly by its mission statement posted on its website.

“(Planned Parenthood) believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility. …We further believe that such self-determination will contribute to an enhancement of the quality of life and strong family relationships.”

As the controversies and debate continue between pro-life and pro-choice individuals, the mother of the girl, Rosa Hernandez, told CNN, “They have killed me, I’m dead, dead. She was the reason for my existence. I no longer live.”

She added, “My daughter’s life is first. I know that (abortion) is a sin and that it goes against the law …but my daughter’s health is first.”