By Mariel Acosta Matos
On March 22nd, the Dominican Studies Group hosted the conversation, The Fight for Abortion Rights in the Dominican Republic and the USA: Local and Diaspora Perspectives. The event brought together members from the Dominican community in New York City, students from various CUNY campuses, and students, professors and staff from the CUNY Grad Center.
Our guest speakers from the Dominican Republic were Nicole Pichardo, an organizer with the abortion and reproductive rights collective RD 3 Causales and Juanjo Cid, coordinator of the queer, feminist and anti-racist collective RD es de Todes. Both Nicole and Juanjo are also part of the leadership of Opción Democrática, a new progressive political organization and party that seeks to change the socioeconomic conditions that affect minoritized communities, whose rights the traditional political parties neglect or actively deny. Gina Goico, from the group Butterfly Effect / Efecto Mariposa, joined us via Zoom to provide a critical perspective from their standpoint as a part of the Dominican diaspora in NYC. Also, with us was Raura Doreste Mendez from CUNY for Abortion Rights[i] and Bread and Roses who presented on the fight for abortion rights and reproductive justice in the USA and in NYC, and also shared perspectives from her homeland Puerto Rico.
In the Dominican Republic, abortion is completely banned. Feminist organizations and allies have been organizing in various ways for close to three decades and across different waves of the movement, pushing for the legalization of abortion under 3 instances or exceptions (known as Causales): 1) when the pregnancy is incompatible with life and the fetus will not survive, 2) when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, and 3) when the pregnancy results from rape or incest. The current Penal Code, which dates back to 1884, has undergone several revisions. An important yet negative legal precedent that represents a set-back to this fight occurred while the Penal Code was being revised in 2010: the modification of article 37 of the constitution to stipulate that “life begins at conception,” granting a fetus legal personhood. This article created the conditions for more doctors to refuse to practice abortions and discouraged people from seeking abortion care, for fear of prosecution. More recently, on February of 2023, after another round of readings, the senate voted again to pass the Penal Code without including the decriminalization of abortion in those 3 Causales.
In the Dominican Republic, abortion is completely banned. Feminist organizations and allies have been organizing in various ways for close to three decades and across different waves of the movement, pushing for the legalization of abortion under 3 instances or exceptions (known as Causales)
There is also no comprehensive sexual education program or curriculum implemented nationally in the Dominican Republic. It seems that every 2 years, institutions release new proposals for a sex education curriculum that get rejected and returned once they reach congress. In 2019 (during the previous presidency), the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women proposed a broad education and training program from a “gender politics” perspective, that included the creation of committees for the development of integral sexual education curricula, as well as guides and other resources for training teachers and employees of government ministries in gender equality and other related topics. The proposal was initially approved, but after months of pushback and campaigning from conservative sectors (including politicians, parent organizations and the Catholic church), it was rejected. Soon after, the Catholic church presented their own project of “sexual education and affectivity.” More recently, in early March of 2023, through the Ministry of Education, the current administration released a new program on “integral education in values and human sexuality” to be implemented in schools. This new proposal intersects its proposed sexual education curriculum with regular school subject content, including (Catholic) religious studies; one of the rubrics for the second grade, for example, suggests teachers to represent situations in which the body is respected and seen as “a gift from God.” Liberal proposals for women and gender, and sex ed. projects continue to be dismissed as an “imposition” of “gender ideology” on children and are then forced to be shelved and are never implanted, due to pushback from influential conservative institutions, or are radically transformed to satisfy the right’s wishes. The task to create critical sexual education curricula in order to educate students and to make visible issues affecting women and LGBTQI people has been assumed by grassroots initiatives, like Aquelarre RD, a feminist collective that organizes workshops in rural and other peripheral areas and educates women and girls on issues related to gender, sexuality and contraception. Aquelarre RD create their own materials, curricula and self-managed publications, like zines and pamphlets that they distribute at their workshops.
The deliberate lack of national comprehensive and critical sexual education programs paired with the lack of accessibility to quality health care only makes matters worse. In her 2019 book, The Politics of Abortion in Latin America, Jane Marcus-Delgado writes that there are 6 countries in the region where abortion is completely banned and penalized: El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname. In the rest of the countries, abortion is legal in various degrees; there may be exceptions depending on time of gestation, maternal health issues, cause of pregnancy, etc. However, every year, over 6 million abortions are practiced voluntarily in Latin America and the Caribbean––both by women who have access to legal, safe and sanitary abortion care, as well as those who can only access illegal abortions with the least safe and sanitary conditions and who constitute the majority of cases.[ii] And, of course, in the Dominican Republic as in the rest of Latin America and in the US, the lack of safe and sanitary abortion access disproportionately affects low income people and women of color, who may not have the resources to pay for private health care or go to another state or country. This disparity constitutes institutionalized and legalized necropolitical violence.[iii]
I wanted to put this event together to open a forum for this important discussion, particularly as a Dominican in the diaspora who has been following the most recent news on the campaigns for the legalization of abortion. I also wanted to bring the USA context into the conversation as we are now at this juncture, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, when the biopolitical control of our bodies and lives, sexualities and identities is increasing with measures like the elimination of sexual education and the push for anti-trans legislations (against gender-affirming care, access to medications, hormones, etc.). In February of this year, Wyoming became the first U.S. state to ban the abortion pill mifepristone, the first pill in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. In mid-March, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas heard a case that could order the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of mifepristone. Kacsmaryk ruled on April 7th to halt FDA approval of mifepristone and the Biden administration immediately filed an appeal, temporarily delaying its effects.[iv] The federal appeals court voted to preserve access to mifepristone with restrictions: it can only be dispensed in the first seven weeks of gestation (as opposed to ten) and will not be dispensed by mail.[v]
I also wanted to bring the USA context into the conversation as we are now at this juncture, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, when the biopolitical control of our bodies and lives, sexualities and identities is increasing with measures like the elimination of sexual education and the push for anti-trans legislations (against gender-affirming care, access to medications, hormones, etc.).
We are not only seeing an increase in the control over what we do or not to our bodies, but also on how we speak about our bodies and their issues: the HB 1557 or “don’t say gay bill” in Florida states that public school teachers may not instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate in grades kindergarten through third grade” (stated in a way that leaves its application open to various interpretations). Now that same state is proposing a bill that would prevent the discussion of menstruation and other topics related to sexuality in elementary schools. These are just a few examples of the wave of “gag orders” that seek to regiment gender and sexuality discourses. Similarly, the elimination of CRT and anything that falls under the umbrella of ethnic and critical social studies and the so-called “woke” perspectives, to the banning of ‘Latinx’ in Arkansas by gov. Sara Huckabee Sanders (former Press Secretary during Trump) are also interconnected, as many of the states that ban or restrict abortion lack comprehensive sexual and progressive education policies.
As for our more immediate context, CUNY is the largest urban university system in the United States, with close to a quarter of a million students,[vi] but we’re overworked and underpaid, lack affordable warm meal options[vii] at the Graduate Center and some other campuses, most campuses don’t have a nurse or a medical office for basic first aid and care, and CUNY is also facing budget cuts and tuition hikes that will only worsen our material conditions and capacity to reproduce ourselves, not only in the child-bearing sense, but in caring for ourselves and each other and having the resources, the physical spaces and the conditions to do it.
In the talk, Nicole spoke about what abortion in 3 causales means and provided insights on the party politics and legislature exploitation of the topic of abortion, particularly during presidential and congressional elections.
Gina gave a historical overview of the penal code and its modifications and revisions in the last 20 years that have excluded the decriminalization of abortion in 3 causales. She also offered a critical perspective on the reproductive rights movement in the DR, where demands are more visible when they come the center and Santo Domingo metro area. Goico also called for the inclusion and visibility of, and dialogue with, movements from the periphery, the rural areas that are spearheaded by Black women.
Juanjo gave a historical overview of the queer community and movement in the Dominican Republic. Their intervention provided a unique perspective on the movements for abortion rights in the country and its broader reach, implications, and intersections with the fight for LGBTQI rights, and the organizing done by other marginalized groups.
Raura spoke about the state of reproductive rights in the USA after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She reminded us of the green wave movement across Latin America as source of inspiration and called for student and worker solidarity for continuing the fight for abortion rights. She also connected the bans for abortion and attacks to bodily autonomy to the increasing legislation against trans rights (bans on gender-affirming care and penalties to health practitioners who perform them, gag order bills that censor sexual education, etc.).
After the talk everyone enjoyed a community dinner and continued the conversation, to make connections and to build community. The event took place at the GC dining commons, which has been occupied with the autonomous People’s Pantry, organized by the Reclaim the Commons campaign[viii], a collective of student, staff and faculty; as I mentioned during the event, this is why holding the event at the commons was important. Reclaim the Commons and other student organizations at the GC have been organizing weekly potlucks and community events to reclaim it as a space for community building and care, and popular education initiatives.[ix]
What better place to have a community conversation about our reproductive rights and bodily autonomy! If you’d like to watch the conversation on the CUNY for Abortion Rights IG page, follow @cunyforabortionrights.
[i] The CUNY for Abortion Rights points of unity are: 1- Free, Safe, and Legal Abortion, 2- We Need an Independent Movement in the Streets and in Our Schools and Workplaces, 3- Fight the Right and Every Attack on Democratic Rights, 4- Fight for Trans Rights, 5- Against Racism, Patriarchy, Xenophobia and All Oppression, 6- Unionize every Workplace, Every Union Should Fight for Abortion Rights, 7- Guarantee the right to parenthood, 8- Against Imperialism, 9- For a People’s CUNY, 10- Abortion is Healthcare and Healthcare is a Right. https://www.leftvoice.org/cuny-for-abortion-rights/
[ii] Marcus-Delgado, Jane. The Politics of Abortion in Latin America. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019.
[iii] Dziuban, Agata and Zuzanna Dziuban. “Conditioned Support: Necropolitics and Solidatiry in Times of Crisis.” Translated by Jerzy P. Listwan. Bienale Warszawa, February 4, 2020.
[iv] Ollstein, Alice Miranda. “Texas judge halts approval of abortion pill.” Politico. April 7, 2023.
[v] Carbonaro, Giulia. “Mifepristone Ban Blocked as Matthew Kacsmaryk Suffers Setback.” Newsweek, April 13, 2023.
[vii] Wood, Olivia. “CUNY Administration Cracks Down on Student and Worker-Run Food Pantry.” Left Voice, March 19, 2023. https://www.leftvoice.org/cuny-administration-cracks-down-on-student-and-worker-run-food-pantry/
[viii] Nikolic, Nathan. “The People’s Pantry Is Open!” The Graduate Center Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), 2 Feb. 2023. https://psccunygc.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2023/02/02/the-peoples-pantry-is-open/.
[ix] Dikaczova, Lucia. “The Dining Commons and the Importance of Informal Learning Spaces for Collective Care and Activism.” Visible Pedagogy. A Teach@CUNY Project. April 4, 2023. https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2023/04/04/the-dining-commons-and-the-importance-of-informal-learning-spaces-for-collective-care-and-activism/