By now, many have heard the name of Savita Halappanavar, whose death in a Galway hospital this fall was a chilling reminder of how abortion bans can be deadly.
That case had the benefit of a vocal and angry person to speak on the dead woman’s behalf — her husband, Praveen. He has said she requested a termination that may have saved her life — but was told, “This is a Catholic country.” (An official inquiry by the hospital has yet to be released, and Praveen Halapannavar is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.) But for every Savita, there are thousands of women whose names we don’t know, women who aren’t even counted.
The most commonly cited statistic suggests that complications from unsafe abortions led to approximately 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide. That’s a World Health Organization figure first arrived at in 2000, which hasn’t been re-evaluated. Every year, when WHO says how many women have died from unsafe abortions, they’re simply taking the same percentage of the global maternal mortality figure — 56,000 in 2003, or 47,000 in 2008. But one epidemiologist, Caitlin Gerdts, wondered if that number wasn’t a potentially vast understatement.
A few years ago, Gerdts was planning to write her dissertation about maternal mortality at a hospital in Zanzibar, Tanzania. “From the data we were able to gather I was sure that we had missed a number of women who had died likely from unsafe abortion,” she told Salon. Even in the original WHO report, she said, the authors “talk about how unsure they are about that estimate, and how they have the aggregate data, and how the data that they did have from countries where abortion-related mortality is the highest were of the poorest quality. They say directly, this is the best number we can come up with – but we think it’s an under estimate.”
Read the rest at Salon here.