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Dominican Republic teen at center of abortion debate dies from leukemia complications


(CBS News) A pregnant Dominican Republic teenager who was at the center of the country's abortion debate passed away on Friday.

Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for Semma Hospital in Santo Domingo, told CNN that the 16-year-old teenager died from complications from acute leukemia. She is not being named for privacy reasons.

The girl -- nicknamed Esperanza by the local media -- was nine weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with the disease, CNN reported. Unfortunately, the life-saving chemotherapy she needed would kill the fetus -- which was a violation of anti-abortion law Article 37 of the Dominican Republic constitution. Specifically, it states "the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death."

"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," Rosa Hernandez, the girl's mother, told CNN.

After discussions with the family, representatives from the Dominican Ministry of Health, the Dominican Medical College and the hospital, the girl was able to receive treatment 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital.

According to Cabrera, the teen did not respond to chemotherapy and rejected a blood transfusion on Thursday. She then suffered a miscarriage at 13 weeks on Friday and went into cardiac arrest, and doctors were not able to revive her.

"They have killed me, I'm dead, dead. I'm nothing," her mother said to CNN. " She was the reason for my existence. I no longer live. Rosa has died. Let the world know that Rosa is dead."

Many in the Dominican Republic were outraged about the delay in treatment. In an editorial written in one of the country's newspapers, El Nacional, Dr. Liliam Fondeuer argued that this case was not the same as abortion since the procedures were necessary to save the mother's life. Fondeuer is credited with bringing national attention to the case.

"Defending people's lives is a supreme value," Fondeuer wrote. "While our authorities defend the life of an embryo over the life of 'little Esperanza,' we are not working at reducing maternal mortality. If the effects of chemotherapy undermine the product of conception, it is a lesser evil. The first thing people: This is an accredited health center. How is it possible that they would let a person die if there was an opportunity to receive treatment?"

In a statement issued by the Dominican Republic's Colectiva Mujer y Salud ("The Collective for Women and Health"), the organization argued that the girl's need for a "therapeutic abortion," the medical term for an abortion performed to save the mother's life, was ignored because of religious beliefs that block a woman's right to live.

"Esperanza has died. Today is a day of mourning and shame for the country. They were aware that her pregnancy put her at higher risk, but they preferred to risk her life and sacrifice instead of giving her a therapeutic abortion. What was done to Esperanza constitutes an act of torture, cruel and inhumane," they argued.

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