For those of us born after Roe v. Wade was decided the reality of back alley abortions can seem remote. Stories of dirty facilities, infections and even death can sound fantastical to our modern ears. And, yet, they shouldn’t. Worldwide, there are 70,000 maternal deaths each year caused by unsafe abortions. Abortion bans can threaten the health and, even life, of women facing pregnancy complications.
Last year, 31 year old Savita Halapanavar died from blood poisoning after doctors in an Irish hospital refused to perform an abortion even though she was miscarrying and there was nothing they could do to save the pregnancy. In 2010, a nun in Phoenix Arizona was excommunicated from the Catholic Church after she allowed an abortion to save the life of a woman suffering from heart failure. According to the woman’s doctors the chance of mortality was “close to 100 percent” if the pregnancy were allowed to continue. Nevertheless, in the words of Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child.”
Ultimately, that is what it means to outlaw abortion or allow religious beliefs to dictate care—that women be allowed to die rather than have a life-saving medical procedure. So, what does Roe v. Wade mean to me? It means that women’s lives matter, that they count, that we count. It means respect for the dignity of all women.