Thirty years ago tomorrow, 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 continues to wage what amounts to a war on birth control. In its first year in office, 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. 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.
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. Last 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 sexual and reproductive health and rights. 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.”