,SANTO DOMINGO - As the abortion rights movement gains pace across Latin America, the issue is heating up in the Dominican Republic - one of the few countries in the region with a total ban on abortion - where activists were camped for an eighth day on Friday outside the president's palace. Latin America, where the Catholic Church has held cultural and political sway for centuries, has some of the most stringent abortion laws in the world. Argentina legalized the medical procedure in December and abortion rights activists hope it will give impetus to a regional movement. In the Dominican Republic, a group of presidential advisors on Tuesday recommended a pending update of the country's 19th century penal code - stalled since the end of the 1990s over the issue - revise its stance. The advisors recommended the code allow terminations when a woman's life is in danger, the pregnancy is not viable or in cases of rape or incest - similar to the easing of abortion laws conservative Chile approved in 2017. But the justice commission of the chamber of deputies rejected that on Wednesday, proposing instead that the penal code allow abortion only where the mother's life is threatened. Although the proposal is not yet scheduled for debate, it has sparked the ire both of religious groups that want to maintain the total ban and abortion rights activists who say abortion should be allowed in all three circumstances proposed by the presidential advisers. Without change, abortion rights activists say, women will simply continue resorting instead to dangerous clandestine abortions that account for 13 percent of maternal deaths in the Caribbean country. "We are the women dying, we are the women in danger," said Margarita Mercedes, one of the dozens of activists that set up camp seven days ago outside the national palace in downtown Santo Domingo. Their protest comes ahead of a march some Christian and civil society groups plan on holding in the capital on March 27 to show support for upholding the absolute ban on abortion. "All three instances (in which the advisors suggested allowing abortion) are murder," the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Francisco Ozoria, said on Thursday. "If they approve any one of them, whichever it is, it's a murder." Christian groups already once thwarted an attempt to ease the country's abortion ban, when they won a case at the Supreme Court challenging a new penal code approved by Congress in 2014 on the basis of errors in legal proceedings. The update to the penal code was subsequently withdrawn and the debate over abortion died down - until now. REUTERS
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