Adilka Féliz: The Dominican Republic's Total Abortion Ban Takes Another Innocent Life

Graphic design showcasing Adilka Féliz and Damaris Mejía against the backdrop of the Dominican Republic flag.

Last week, the world lost Adilka Féliz, a woman who would still be alive if it weren’t for the total abortion ban in the Dominican Republic. Her life is one of countless that have been lost since the abortion ban was introduced in 1884, which then became constitutional in 2010 with the ratification of Article 37, declaring a right to life from the moment of conception. No matter the circumstances.


Activists have been fighting for years for the introduction of the “3 Causales,” or the three causes. The 3 Causales are exceptions to the abortion ban in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or if the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of the mother. Despite their tireless efforts and horrific track record of avoidable maternal death, infant mortality, and a litany of other related social implications like child marriage and poverty in the Dominican Republic, the 3 Causales still aren’t a reality in the Dominican Republic and a total ban on abortion remains in place.

What Are the “3 Causales”?

The “3 Causales” are three causes or grounds for abortion that can serve as an exception to the total abortion ban, allowing women the opportunity to have safe abortions. Activists have been demanding that the Dominican Penal Code be amended to decriminalize abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is not viable, and in cases of rape or incest.

¿Qué son las 3 Causales?www.youtube.com

Women and teenage girls who face unplanned or unwanted pregnancies have no safe way to handle it. Moreover, women and doctors or midwives who assist them in getting abortions face prison sentences of 2 years or 5 to 20 years, respectively. Women in the Dominican Republic are forced, by law, to carry a pregnancy full term, with no exceptions.

As it stands, the only options to deal with an unwanted, unplanned, or non-viable pregnancy in the Dominican Republic are clandestine abortions, traveling to another country, which is impossible for most women because they don’t have the resources, or continuing with the pregnancy despite serious health risks, including death.

Tragically, many women die amid this total abortion ban.

Adilka Féliz: The Latest Tragedy

Adilka Féliz, 33 years old, was a legislative assistant who advocated for the 3 Causales, amongst other issues, to help make a difference in her country. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother of one boy, Sebastián. Tragically, Féliz died during the course of her pregnancy because she was forced to carry it to term when it should have been declared unviable. This, like many other losses, was entirely preventable.

On February 27, at 23 weeks pregnant, Féliz went into premature labor after she had been advised that her pregnancy, which presented multiple complications, needed to be terminated. As reported by the Spanish-language news site, RCC Media, the former director of the National Health Service, Chanel Rosa Chupany, reported that Féliz’s death occurred due to the doctors' refusal to perform a cesarean section during her premature labor.

Instead of performing a C-section on her, doctors decided that, due to legal reasons, she should have a natural birth. She started to push, but there were complications. Her lungs filled with liquid, and she died of a heart attack; doctors tried for half an hour to resuscitate her, but to no avail.

@pauavilg

Adilka Feliz didn't have to die. An abortion would've saved her life. Help us share her mother's words and ask President Abinader to approve the three exceptions. #abortionrights #lascausalesvan #republicadominicana

According to Féliz’s mother, Berkis Paulino, who took to social media to raise awareness about the tragic loss of her daughter, Féliz’s last words were: "I, who have fought so hard for the approval of the three grounds for abortion, but how ironic is life, look at the position I find myself in today."

Paulino also made a direct plea to President Luis Abinader, writing in a Facebook post: "Mr. President, @luisabinader, you also have daughters, on behalf of Claurys Adilka Féliz Paulino, we demand to resume the approval of the three grounds in the Penal Code (with the due regulation). We, people of faith and who fear to displease God, request that these issues be regulated so that we don’t continue to lose valuable mothers and women.”


When Is Enough Is Enough?

Féliz is only the latest more high-profile case of avoidable maternal death.

In 2012, Damaris Mejía died of sepsis caused by a dead fetus in her uterus. Mejía, who was also a mother of two, was 16 weeks pregnant with her third child when she went to the hospital after experiencing severe abdominal pain. According to medical records and the first-hand accounts of her sister, Juliana Mejía, Damaris Mejía was told by several doctors that she had lost so much fluid that her unborn baby would likely die.

Portrait of Damaris MejiaPhoto provided by Juliana Mejía

Instead of providing a medically necessary abortion, Mejía was sent home multiple times with nothing more than pain medications. Under the total abortion ban, the medical staff argued they could not interrupt the pregnancy because while it was deemed unviable, the fetus wasn’t yet considered dead.

After her condition worsened, doctors were still unwilling to take the risk of performing a procedure that was still technically considered an abortion. Mejía died at home less than a week after she first sought help at a hospital, leaving her two children behind.

To this day, her sister Juliana Mejía continues to fight for the 3 causales in memory of her sister and to prevent future tragedies. Mejía told Luz Media that the damage didn’t end with the loss of her sister. She described a suicide attempt by her niece, an attempted suicide by the Mejías’ father, and ultimately, a successful death by suicide of their father. Their family never fully recovered from the loss of their beloved Damaris. A death that Mejía describes as “obstetric state violence.”

Portrait of Juliana MejiaPhoto Credit: Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro

The Fight for Women’s Lives Continues

During his campaign, now-President Luis Abinader promised to advocate for legislation that would amend the penal code and make the 3 Causales law. As of yet, President Abdinar hasn’t kept his campaign promises. Both local and international advocates and allies are reminding him of his failure to keep his word.

Advocates for the “3 Causales” are intensifying the pressure on President Abdinar during a crucial re-election year for him when even U.S.-based Dominicans with the right to vote in Dominican elections are weighing in. Their goal is to put pressure on him to fulfill his promises.

Advocates launched a social media campaign asking the public to share the statement written by Féliz’s mother using the hashtag #PorAdilka and tagging President Abdinar’s social media handles @luisabinader, urging him to protect the lives of women and girls in the Dominican Republic.