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World Population Day: Time for a Renewed Commitment to Family Planning

July 11, 2018

Twenty-nine years ago, the UN designated July 11th as World Population Day. Today, as then, the world needs to recognize that access to family planning services is a basic human right. Women, regardless of where they live, should be able to determine freely the number and spacing of their children.

The goal of universal access to reproductive health services, however, is still an unrealized aspiration.  More than 200 million women in the developing world today want to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using a modern method of contraception. In addition to improving access to modern contraception, far more needs to be done towards removing the cultural and informational barriers that prevent these women from accessing modern methods of contraception. And those barriers are formidable.

Child marriage practices and the harmful social norms that disempower women and girls in developing countries need to change. Girls must be encouraged and allowed to complete their schooling, and girls and women, everywhere, need better information about contraceptive options.

Tragically, however, the Trump Administration has been waging what amounts to a war on birth control.  Last year, the Trump Administration suspended U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a major provider of family planning services in the developing world. It also re-imposed and vastly expanded the “global gag rule” that cuts off U.S. funding to overseas providers of family planning services—or other healthcare providers—if they advocate for, or refer patients to, abortion services. This year the Trump Administration has been pushing for steep cuts in America’s bilateral support for family planning services in developing countries, while also working actively to undermine Title X, the federal program that supports family planning clinics serving low-income women in the U.S. (See our special report for more details on the war on birth control).

The reasons for supporting family planning are, of course, as compelling as ever. Access to birth control empowers women and reduces child and maternal mortality. In developing countries, access to family planning services is an essential ally in the fights to eliminate severe poverty and hunger. And globally, family planning helps to reduce humanity’s environmental footprint, while also relieving pressure on water and other scarce resources. Earlier this year, 15,000 scientists signed a proclamation warning that the runaway consumption of limited resources, fueled by rising incomes and a still expanding world population, is crippling the Earth’s life-support systems and jeopardizing life on earth. That warning must be heeded.

In observing World Population Day, Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute, stressed that “America should be leading the fight, not sounding the retreat on access to birth control. Access to family planning and reproductive health services is a basic human right and the achievement of universal access would be enormously beneficial to women, their families, their communities, and the world at large.”

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