Access to affordable contraception isn’t just under attack here in the United States. Globally, religious conservatives are blocking efforts to serve those who need that access most desperately — women in developing nations. In part because of this newly focused crusade against birth control, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday declared family planning a universal human right, emphasizing the economic benefits family planning can have for all society.
Currently, 222 million women have an unmet need for contraception. The UNFPA estimates that 4.1 billion U.S. dollars are needed to address these needs.
The estimate comes after a family planning summit in London four months ago raised close to $5 billion in funding commitments from donor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help close the access gap. And Richard Kollege, author of the UNFPA report noted that the reports found that “making voluntary family planning available to everyone in developing countries would reduce costs for maternal and newborn health care by $11.3 billion annually.”
Meeting contraception needs would not only reduce health care costs but allow “young women to truly plan for work, school and childbearing on their terms,” said Kollege. These seemingly simple accomplishments allow women to make greater contributions to the economy and drive development. “Increased access to family planning has proven to be a sound economic investment,” the UN agency said in a press release. ”The costs of ignoring the right of family planning include poverty, exclusion, poor health and gender inequality.”
This much we largely already know. It’s taking that information the additional step and declaring access to contraception a human right that we should take notice of because such a declaration creates obligations on governments not to interfere with access. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that in order to be a fully whole citizen under the law one must have the ability to control one’s body free from government compelled procreation. That basic assumption is one the right rejects outright and one women’s rights advocates have fought hard for our allies to articulate.
The good news is that under President Obama, international family planning funding is at least safe from further retreat. Mitt Romney and his conservative allies had vowed to end funding when possible and reinstate the global gag rule, which would further tighten access. But as we’ve seen in the United States, the anti-contraception forces are patient and willing to fight for the long-term. This is not a battle that is going away anytime soon and one that could hold the future of the developing world in its resolution.
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