Despite direct intervention by a top United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official, the Dominican Republic appears poised to adopt a new constitution that protects human life “from conception until death.”
While Dominican lawmakers were debating the merits of such a provision and the nation’s penal prohibition of abortion, Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, interjected himself, calling on Dominican legislators to consider liberalizing abortion so women would not be forced into “unsafe procedures.” He also suggested they would be “hypocrites” unconcerned with the nation’s higher than average teen birth rate. Kastberg made his unusual statements while visiting the capital of Santo Domingo at the end of March.
Rather than bowing to external pressure from UNICEF and pro-abortion non-governmental organizations, this week members of the bicameral constitutional assembly voted 167-32 to approve the proposed charter, including Article 30, which states, “The right to life is inviolable from conception to death.” Another article would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Pro-lifers are considering the constitutional reform to be a fait accompli, though a second reading followed by formal promulgation by the President is also required. Support crossed party lines, with the opposition Partido Revolucionario Dominicano and Partido Reformista Social Cristiano and most members of the President’s Partido de la Liberación Dominicana declaring their support for the right-to-life provision.
The meddling by Kastberg, a Swedish national, also brought to mind another pro-abortion Latin American intervention by UNICEF and other United Nations agencies. When Nicaragua strengthened legislation protecting the unborn in 2006, UNICEF joined agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Fund in signing a letter to the head of the Nicaraguan National Assembly that asserted – incorrectly – that the legislation violated rights contained in various international documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, or CEDAW.
In addition, four Scandinavian countries, Holland and Canada signed the letter, with Sweden reportedly cutting over $20 million in foreign aid to Nicaragua as a result of the legislative reform, and Finland threatening to link continued aid to changes in Nicaragua’s abortion law.
Despite its image as a benign agency dedicated to assisting children in the developing world, in recent years UNICEF has supported liberalized abortion. According to Douglas Sylva, a senior fellow of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) [publisher of the Friday Fax] and the author of a White Paper on the agency, UNICEF is “an opportunistic advocate of abortion rights.” One longtime UNICEF watcher told the Friday Fax, “Where does UNICEF get the authority to interfere in the constitutional decisions of a sovereign state?”
When formally adopted, the Dominican Republic will join other Latin American nations whose constitutions explicitly protect unborn life, including Chile, Paraguay, and Guatemala. In addition, at least 10 Mexican states have amended their state constitutions to protect life from the moment of conception, including most recently, the Pacific coast state of Nayarit. The pro-life constitutional revisions in Mexico and the Dominican Republic signal popular reaffirmation of pro-life principles throughout the region.
Contributing author: Paola Ocejo