By now news of Savita Halappanavar's senseless death has traveled around the world, drawing attention to Ireland's near-total ban on abortion and the horrific consequences of such policies. This is not a stand-alone case. Every 90 seconds a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, totaling more than 350,000 deaths worldwide each year. Nearly all of these deaths occur in developing countries, where access to modern medical care is scarce.
What makes Savita's story so shocking is that she died in a modern hospital in a developed European country. We health advocates spend a lot of time and energy fighting for the kind of access Savita (almost) had. Hers was a planned pregnancy. She herself was a medical professional, a dentist, who recognized the warning signs of pregnancy complications. When she felt severe pains, she and her husband didn't have to travel far to reach a clean, modern hospital where her health problems were quickly diagnosed. And when she learned that she was miscarrying and that her life was in danger, she asked her doctor about her options and requested that her pregnancy be ended before it killed her.
Lack of access to medical care did not kill Savita -- politics did.
The slow and painful death Ireland's abortion ban forced Savita to endure, and forced her husband to witness, brings to mind another tragic story. Earlier this year, doctors in the Dominican Republic refused chemotherapy to a 16-year-old cancer patient because she was pregnant.
Think this couldn't happen in the United States? Think again.
In Nebraska, Danielle Deaver experienced complications in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her water broke and doctors informed her that there was not enough amniotic fluid for her daughter to survive. Devastated, Danielle wanted to end the pregnancy, but her state's ban on safe and legal abortion after 20 weeks gestation prevented her from doing so. Instead, Danielle was forced to continue her pregnancy and deliver a baby that died moments after birth.
Danielle, the young woman in the Dominican Republic and Savita show us what happens when politicians get between women and their doctors. Right now in Ohio, legislators are considering a bill that would impose similar restrictions on women in Ohio as those currently faced by women in Ireland. It would ban safe and legal abortion very early in pregnancy -- even before some women know they are pregnant.
Savita and Danielle represent some of the most extreme outcomes of harmful policies, but by no means the full extent. Women across the country and around the world suffer in myriad ways because of politics that deny women the ability to make their own health care decisions. They face challenges ranging from mental anguish after becoming pregnant from a sexual assault, to the judgment and shame created by bad policies, to the health consequences of complicated pregnancies, both intended and unintended.
The best way to honor the life and courage of Savita and women like her is to make sure no woman dies again in these circumstances. We need to ensure that laws and policies give women the ability to make decisions about whether to end a pregnancy, choose adoption, or raise a child.
It's time we let politicians know that we will no longer allow politics to interfere with women's health. We have enough work ensuring that women and families can access quality medical care. Let's leave the personal decisions up to them and their doctors.