Every Woman Has the Right to Reproductive Health Care

As an American woman, I’ve always had access to whatever type of contraception I want—from a variety of birth control pills to colored, ribbed, even flavored condoms. At any time, I know I can call my doctor and set up an appointment to select a type of birth control, or in an emergency, stop by my local drug store. If I have questions, I can reach out to an array of friends, family or health websites and—if I was really at a loss—there’s no shortage of birth control and condom ads on TV ready to jump in and sell their products to me.

Unfortunately, in the developing world, this kind of access is too-often nonexistent. More than 200 million women want, but lack access, to contraception. Can you imagine the uproar that kind of situation would cause in the US? If someone took away my right to contraception, I would be among the first to pack my car and head to Washington to camp out in protest.

Women in many underdeveloped countries are being denied a fundamental human right—access to reproductive health care—but few have the means to make it to a clinic, much less organize a movement for increased access. This lack of access has devastating implications not only for women’s health and wellbeing, but for that of their families and communities. A few weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column about Nahomie, a young Haitian mother of nine who is pregnant with her tenth child. The accompanying video “Saving Lives with Family Planning” highlighted Nahomie’s struggle to choose when and how often to have children. Unfortunately she is not unique. Hundreds of millions of women in the developing world face the same challenges to accessing reproductive health care every day.  

Imagine being in Nahomie’s place and being told by a service provider that your only option for contraception is condoms—yet your partner refused to use them and you had no power in the relationship to persuade him otherwise or even refuse sex. Imagine being a woman in rural Nigeria and having to walk ten miles to a remote clinic only to discover that the service provider is away—with no information about when she might return. Or if the provider is there, deciding that you want a particular method—say an IUD—but being told that not only are they out of stock, but there is no one trained in how to do an insertion. Imagine wanting to stop having children so you could afford to send your 2 and 3 year-old-daughters to school, but having no way to even to get information about family planning. These scenarios are near-impossible to fathom in the US, but they happen throughout impoverished communities the world over.

Access to quality reproductive health care and family planning should be a right everywhere. It’s a belief I’ve nurtured so strongly that a few years ago I changed careers simply to contribute whatever I could to help women like Nahomie. At Pathfinder International—where I currently work—we’ve been fighting for more than 50 years to ensure women have access to reproductive health care and family planning. But it can be an uphill battle. Family planning funding is often politicized and even as the need for contraceptive services increases, support for these programs has declined over the last 15 years.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Together we can make sure reproductive health is fundamental human right not just in the US, but around the world. Sign Pathfinder’s petition to increase US funding for international reproductive health care and family planning in President Obama’s upcoming FY2010 budget. By taking a stand for women around the world, we can ensure Nahomie and millions like her will not only have the right to reproductive health care, but the ability to actualize their rights through available, accessible services whenever and wherever they need them.

  - Jaime-Alexis Fowler

(This blog is posted on behalf of Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Pathfinder International's web content editor. An ardent supporter of women's rights, Jaime-Alexis was struck by the dire health needs of women while working with Kenyan women's micro-lending organizations in 2002. Since then, she has actively promoted accessible health care in the US and the developing world.)


Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun6 years ago

Thank you for posting

trina firey
Trina D. firey7 years ago

Rebecca, you are ignorant! I really hope nobody is gullible enough to take your opinion seriously!

The author is educated about women's ordeal in regard to reproductive issues. I will gladly sign the petition she advocates here. Thx.

Rebecca M.
Rebecca M8 years ago

Women can control whether or not they conceive -- without artificial contraceptives, without relying on the government to issue condoms, without relying on doctors or technicians to implement IUDs or give a pill prescription. Women can understand their own fertility cycle through Natural Family Planning. NFP education is what women's health practitioners should work towards instead of artificial contraception which is leading our society and others in a harmful direction, creating further dependance for women, instead of empowerment.

Sally Abravanel
Past Member 8 years ago

Right, Elaine. Philosophies of male "right" have to be challenged too.

Elaine H.
Elaine H8 years ago

I so agree with those who support a woman's right to contraception. What to do about the women who are pressured by church, culture, or family/husband to give birth to as many children as possible. Can we help with fighting overpopulation by addressing the issues aside from access like beliefs that a man must have as many sons as possible? You are right though, first we must bring access to birth control, then help them to use it.

Sally Abravanel
Past Member 8 years ago

As your last three respondents have said, it is WE who should control our bodies, not men, "church" or State!

And Glenna makes an interesting point. Capitalism in the form of the media and big pharmaceutical companies are quite happy to pander to raging male hormones but want to shut their eyes to the consequences - birth control is apparently beyond the pale.

Dr Harmander Singh
Past Member 8 years ago

If a man could imagine how it makes a woman to take birth again when a new born baby comes to the world crying-it cries for the mother, who labored for 9 months. Let's offer our thanksgiving to the womanhood. Thanks!

Beth Hartford-DeRoos
Beth G8 years ago

Women should never ever feel like a brood mare. And I would like to see an adopt a sister organization where like the groups where you can support a third world child, one could support a sister woman somewhere in the world who needs and wants birth control. It would make it more personal for me.

To know that Ms India woman or Ms Africa, South America, Ms USA woman is getting reliable family planning in my name would feel so wonderful. As it is I dont know who my family planning dollars are supporting.

God, creator, whatever you call it, gave us a brain for a reason, so lets use it!!

Claudia Tapia Guerrero

Every woman, around the world, has the right to decide over her life, her health, and her body.

Glenna Jones-kachtik
Glenna Kachtik8 years ago

This is a good article and I believe that everyone should have the right to birth control.
The only comment that I can pick a bone with is this; "no shortage of birth control and condom ads on TV" Some birth control ads, yes - condom ads??? NO. Where do you live in the USA where you have seen ads for condoms on TV - 'cause I sure haven't. There are ads for some IUDs and for ortho but they pale in comparison to the ones for Cialis, Levitra and whatever other ED pill has come down the pike. The other thing I noticed is that the ED meds are often covered by insurance while the birth control methods are not. There is always someone in the US who is clamoring for no birth control by any means - because it is against God's plan....
Women should have control over their bodies. Whether to have another child should ultimately rest with the woman and her family. Not any outside source.