Women suffer and die when abortion is inaccessible. That’s a fact.
If you don’t believe me, just look up the countless studies that document that. The World Health Organization found that unsafe abortion (which occurs when it is inaccessible or criminalized) is a leading — but preventable — cause of maternal deaths and morbidities. It accounts for 13.2 percent of maternal deaths worldwide.
On a national level, a recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that banning abortion in the United States would lead to a 21 percent increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths, with a 33 percent increase among Black women.
To be sure, the liberalization of the abortion pill by the Food and Drug Administration is pivotal. Medication abortion, which is more accessible than ever thanks to activist groups and doctors on the internet, has made self-managed abortions an extremely safe option. Nevertheless, women still suffer when abortion access is not codified. For instance, there are 19 states and counting that are making it illegal for women to access the medication without making two or more in-person appointments to a physician.
This is counter to the advice of various medical organizations and scientific communities that have declared the safety and efficacy of the abortion pill via mail.
And without sweeping legislation that protects abortion care, women will die. Just look at what is happening in Poland, a strongly Roman Catholic country that made abortion illegal in nearly all instances one year ago. This past Tuesday, a young woman pregnant with twins was denied an abortion. According to family, her health “quickly deteriorated” and it is believed that she died of septic shock. Cruelly, after her death at the Blessed Virgin Mary Hospital, a priest was summoned to perform a funeral — for the fetuses.
Last September, a young Polish woman carrying a dying or dead fetus who was denied an abortion also unnecessarily died of septic shock — a particularly grusome and painful death involving gangrene.
Tragically, more deaths are undoubtedly coming unless abortion is relegalized in Poland.
The Turnaway Study, a research project conducted by the University of California-San Francisco, details the horrifying consequences for women denied abortions. For example, such women are more likely to stay in contact with a violent partner and experience physical violence. Additionally, women who are denied an abortion have higher levels of life-threatening complications, such as eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, chronic headaches, migraines, joint pain and gestational hypertension. The study concluded: “Women who receive a wanted abortion are more financially stable, set more ambitious goals, raise children under more stable conditions and are more likely to have a wanted child later.”
So, if we accept that restricting access to abortion results in serious health complications and even death, why are we staring down the potential death of Roe v. Wade? You can credit the Religious Right and anti-abortion legislators. Anti-abortion legislators seem to be in two groups: One that truly believes abortion is murder (it’s not!) and wants to impose their religious viewpoint on a secular country, and the second group that simply panders to the Religious Right for votes. Neither group upholds this country’s founding principle of the separation of state and church. Instead it sees abortion as some sort of game where they can score points.
Well, guess what? The right to an abortion right is not a game; it’s a human right that millions of people are denied.
If you don’t think it’s a human right, ask yourself why nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights because of the deaths in Poland?
The assault on abortion should frighten all of us — not just for preventable deaths, but also the deteroriation of human rights. I shudder to think that what is unfolding in Poland may very well happen here in the United States. I hope those international human rights organizations will come to our aid after the inevitable deaths of U.S. women because of abortion bans. And I hope that our Supreme Court will listen to them — but given its ultraconservative makeup, that’s an unlikely possibility.
I just hope that it doesn’t come to that. That’s why I am calling on my two senators to vote for the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify abortion rights in the United States. Please join me. The health and well-being of innumerable women is at stake.