Skip to main content

If Ireland had abortion rights

By Latanya Mapp Frett, Special to CNN
updated 10:07 AM EST, Tue November 27, 2012
Ireland is holding an inquiry into why Savita Halappanavar died last month after being denied an abortion.
Ireland is holding an inquiry into why Savita Halappanavar died last month after being denied an abortion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland after being denied an abortion
  • Latanya Mapp Frett: Before Roe v. Wade, women in U.S. often died from unsafe abortions
  • Frett: Abortion opponents in U.S. are trying to end a woman's right to free choice
  • Banning abortion does not stop it, she writes, it leads to more women dying

Editor's note: Latanya Mapp Frett is a vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and leads its international arm, Planned Parenthood Global.

(CNN) -- Savita Halappanavar died last month in Ireland after being denied a lifesaving abortion. If she had lived in the United States -- where in two months we will mark four decades of safe and legal abortion on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling -- she likely would be alive today.

I was a little girl when this decision overturned state bans across the country that prevented women from access to medically safe procedures. Unlike my mother's generation -- when women often died from self-induced abortions or back-alley abortions performed by a person with no skills or training, often under unsanitary conditions -- my siblings, friends, classmates and I grew up with the ability to make informed decisions when faced with an unintended or medically problematic pregnancy.

Latanya Mapp Frett
Latanya Mapp Frett

Worldwide, many women are unable to make personal health decisions. The consequences are grave. According to a World Health Organization report, about 47,000 women die each year around the world from unsafe abortions. This accounts for about 13% of all maternal deaths. Most of these women die in developing countries, where severe legal restrictions and lack of access to modern medical care drive women to seek unsafe procedures. By contrast, abortion in the United States is incredibly safe: Fewer than 0.3% of women experience complications that require hospitalization.

But Halappanavar died in a highly developed country. After 17 weeks of pregnancy, she went to the hospital, miscarrying and in extreme pain. Her husband says doctors denied requests for an abortion to save her life; after three days the fetus died, and after suffering for four days, Savita Halappanavar died of blood poisoning.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Her death in Ireland serves as a stark reminder that living in a developed country does not necessarily protect us from backward health policies. Lawmakers in Ireland who defend that country's near-total ban on abortion rely on the same politically driven arguments echoed across much of the U.S. by opponents of women's freedom to choose, as they try to chip away at access to safe and legal abortion.

In Ohio, for example, legislators are considering a bill that would ban abortion early in pregnancy, even before some women know they are pregnant. According to an analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, half the women in our nation live in states hostile to abortion access; and in 2011 alone, states enacted a record 92 provisions seeking to restrict women's access to abortion.

Records missing in abortion denial case
Death leads to abortion rally in Ireland
Woman dies after being denied abortion

This is not the legacy I wish for my children. I want my son and daughter to grow up in a country where they make their own health care decisions and their privacy is respected. Unless we stand up to these attacks on women's health and personal decision making, we are sure to hear more stories like Halappanavar's -- and this time closer to home.

Senseless decisions do not just happen in other countries. In Nebraska, doctors refused to allow Danielle Deaver to end her pregnancy after she learned her daughter would not survive, citing the state's ban on abortion past 20 weeks gestation. Instead, Deaver was forced to deliver an infant who died moments after birth.

Evidence shows time and again that banning abortion does not make it go away -- it merely leads to more unsafe abortions and more women dying. Some of the countries with the highest abortion rates worldwide have the most restrictive policies. On the other hand, countries with the lowest abortion rates tend to have more supportive abortion policies and strong policy support for contraception.

Policymakers truly interested in reducing abortion should support strong investment in contraception at home and abroad. Under the Affordable Care Act, millions more Americans will be eligible for birth control coverage without a co-pay — which will have a tremendous impact for women across the country who find it a struggle to use contraception consistently because of its cost.

The U.S. is the largest investor in global family planning and HIV/AIDS programs in the world. We need to protect these investments from budget cuts to ensure that women everywhere can plan and space their children's births and prevent unintended pregnancy and disease. As the United Nations recently declared, access to contraception is a universal human right.

We also need to fight for better access to safe and legal abortion at home and abroad. As Halappanavar's case devastatingly demonstrates, even during a planned pregnancy, a woman must sometimes consider an abortion. The difficult decision to end a pregnancy, to choose adoption or to raise a child should be up to the woman, in consultation with her family, her faith and her doctor.

On January 22, when my family honors the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I want to be able to tell my children that our country is moving forward, not turning back the clocks. We will remember Savita Halappanavar on that day and repeat the mantra echoed at vigils in Ireland and around the world honoring her wholly preventable death: Never again.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Latanya Mapp Frett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT