Skip to main content

If Ireland had abortion rights

By Latanya Mapp Frett, Special to CNN
November 27, 2012 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT