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Dominican Constitution amended in line with Church doctrines

On 21 April 2009 constitutional amendments were passed which enshrine key doctrines of the Catholic Church and could limit human rights, especially those of women and gays. 

The project of a new constitution offered the Vatican the chance to get its "pro-life" (or "anti-choice") policies cemented more firmly than they would be in national legislation alone. [1] What failed in Poland in 2006 succeeded in the Dominican Republic three years later.

On 18 September 2008 the President of the Dominican Republic introduced constitutional amendments to the Senate which

♦ guarantee the right to life and defines life from the moment of conception until death. (Art 30)

♦ define the family as the fundamental unit of society (Art 44)  

♦ define marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Art 44 paragraph 1)

Finally, on 17 September 2009, in the Congress chamber, in the presence of Church representatives and facing a mural of God handing down the Tablets of the Law, Congress voted, by a large majority to include the right-to-life clause in the Constitution. [2]

Political pressures

Because other items in this package of constitutional amendments let the President seek a third consecutive term in office, [3] he had every reason to try hard to get the whole lot through. He needed a two-thirds vote of both houses and his ruling party was only 19 votes short of this. [4]  

The new Article 30, approved by a large majority of 167-32, states "the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.  The death penalty cannot be established, pronounced, nor applied, in any case."

For weeks the Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Archbishop Nicolas de Jesus Lopez of Santo Domingo, promoted the pro-life article through marches, television speeches, and protests outside of government buildings and in other places. "The Crusade for Life" included collecting one million signatures to present to the National Congress. [...]

Referring to abortion supporters and the constitutional reform process, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo said on his Sunday homily: "We know that there are butcher doctors, there are legislators who like to trade in life, there are people who have authority who make a living from that." [...] He said that abortion is a "crime," that it "exploits women" and that it is "terrorism."

The Cardinal Archbishop Nicolas de Jesus Lopez went further. He attacked members of Parliament, saying that Minou Tavares and Víctor Terrero, were ‘abortionists' (pro-abortion). [5]

On the day of the vote the Church stepped up the pressure on the lawmakers. At 7 AM two priests began a mass on the small boulevard in front of the Congress, and afterwards the group was bolstered by other friars, priests and deacons from several parishes and remained in the area to conduct a vigil. [6]

Protests and warnings

By contrast, when a crowd of women gathered to protest the amendments, a truck full of female police officers dressed in black riot gear pulled up to confront them. Not that this was necessary: the hundreds of women stood peacefully behind the barrier in front of the Senate in the afternoon sun, carrying signs such as "No Rosaries on our Ovaries" and chanting slogans against Article 30. [7] (The subtext on the poster says "The right to decide over our bodies is not a question of faith. It's a question of democracy.")

Gynaecologist Lillian Fundera explained that the constitutional amendment will make some forms of contraception such as the IUD and the "morning-after" pill illegal and condemn to certain death any woman who has an extopic pregnancy. [8] According to a report by the Dominican Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, one in five maternal deaths is already due to a botched abortion. The new constitutional amendments can be expected to increase this shocking maternal mortality rate. [9]

What these constitutional revisions could mean

The Dominican Government has posted the amended constitution online in Spanish. The Masons of the Dominican Republic have translated the new articles and commented on their significance as follows. [10]

“Artículo 30. El derecho a la vida es inviolable desde la concepción hasta la muerte. No podrá establecerse, pronunciarse ni aplicarse, en ningún caso, la pena de muerte.”

“Article 30. The right to life is inviolable from conception until death.  The death penalty may not be established, pronounced nor applied in any case.”

Comment:  This definition of life from the moment of conception and its  inviolability may be considered discriminatory against women’s right to choose to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest, or even if the mother’s life is at risk.  This issue has been the cause of significant debate by part of feminist groups.

“Artículo 44. La familia es el fundamento de la sociedad y el espacio básico para el desarrollo integral de las personas y, como tal, recibirá la protección del Estado.”

“Article 44. The family is the foundation of society and the open space for the integral development of persons, and as such, shall receive the protection of the State.”

Comment:  This definition of the family as the foundation of society is clearly discriminatory against individuals, who, for whichever reason, do not live within the context of a family, and are thus, not considered part of society.  In Paragraph 1, this article goes on to further define the family as: 

1) “El matrimonio de un hombre y una mujer es el fundamento legal de la familia. La ley rige el derecho al matrimonio y sus efectos.”

1) “Marriage between one man and one woman is the legal foundation of the family.  The law rules the right to marriage and its effects.”

Comment:  This is self-evident.  Thus, within the general context of this Article, anyone not living within a married couple is not considered part of society, regardless of cause.  And citizens who live within the context of a married couple are entitled to the “protection of the State”, which translates into special privileges and prerogatives for some, to the detriment of the rights of others.

“Artículo 244.  La Reforma de la Constitución sólo podrá hacerse en la forma que indica ella misma,  y no podrá jamás ser suspendida ni anulada por ningún poder o autoridad ni tampoco por aclamaciones populares.

1)  Ninguna modificación podrá versar sobre la forma de gobierno que deberá ser siempre civil, republicano, democrático y representativo. “

“Article 244. The Reform of the Constitution can only be done in the manner established within the Constitution itself, and it may never be suspended or annulled by any power or authority, nor by public acclaim.

1) No modification may address the form of government which will always be civil, republican, democratic and representative.”

Comment: This article will perpetuate the impossibility of adding “secular” to the form of government, as requested by the Grand Lodge of Masons in February 2007. This perpetuity of the unchangeable form of government established in the proposed constitution opens the gap for the continuation of the current ambiguity which allows for the existence of the concordat with the Holy See.

 
Notes

1. Marcela Sanchez, "A Penchant for Rewriting Democracy", Washington Post, 1 August 2008.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/31/AR2008073101274.html

Latin America's penchant for tampering with constitutions is unmatched. According to one count by University of Illinois political science professor Zachary Elkins, nearly half of the 801 new constitutions adopted in the world since 1789 have been written in Latin America. The Dominican Republic leads with 29 constitutions. [...] The writing of constitutions for political purposes is a “perversion” of the region's democratic tradition, according to Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University [...] “A democratic constitution is not meant to give guarantees to a fleeting majority,” said Valenzuela. It must withstand the whims of a leader or a majority at any given time and it has to “give assurance to everyone,” particularly minorities.

2. “Pro life groups get their way in Dominican Constitution”, Dominican Today, 18 September 2009 http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2009/9/18/33282/Pro-life-groups-get-their-way-in-Dominican-Constitution

3. Art. 104 of the Amendment repeats the phrase about allowing the president a “second term”, quietly dropping the qualifying “only one”. Cf. Art. 49 of the 2002 Constitution.
http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/DomRep/domrep02.html

4. “Dominican Constitutional amendment math=19”
Dominican Today, 18 September 2008
http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2008/9/19/29473/Dominican-Constitutional-amendment-math19

5. Angela Castellanos, “Dominican Republic: Catholic Republic? 'Right to Life' Enters Constitution”, RH Reality Check, 1 May 2009. http://rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/04/30/dominican-republic-catholic-republic-right-life-enters-constitutio

6. “Catholics hold mass in front of Dominican Congress”, Dominican Today, 21 April 2009.
http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2009/4/21/31754/Catholics-hold-mass-in-front-of-Dominican-Congress

7. Elizabeth Eames Roebling, “Dominican Republic: Church Pushes Draconian Abortion Law”, Inter Press Service, 23 April 2009. http://ipsnews.net/print.asp?idnews=46605

8. Ibid.

9. Castellanos, ibid.

10. Excerpts translated from a Communication of the Grand Lodge of Masons of the Dominican Republic, published in the newspaper Hoy, 29 April 2009.

 


 

 

In addition to the files below, the document can be found on the government site at www.presidencia.gob.do/app/banners/anteproyecto.doc as "Proyecto de Reforma de la Constitution" (Draft Reform of the Constitution").


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