Some trends, like the electric neon colors of 1980’s fashion, seem to happen with little rhyme or reason. Others, like the current global focus on family planning, are quite the opposite: based on evidence, and thoughtful reasoning. The efforts for the London Summit on Family Planning, happening on Wednesday, July 11, should make the current trend to promote family planning become the global norm where every woman around the world has access to voluntary contraceptive use.
What is the evidence to support this new trend and new global interest?
You can find it in the new Family Planning Series published in The Lancet today. This series provides the rationale for why this Summit is pushing for increased global commitments to family planning.
The papers in this series present critical evidence of the benefits of family planning from several different perspectives.
From a health perspective, evidence shows that contraceptive use reduces maternal mortality. Researchers estimate that the number of maternal deaths would have been 1.8 times higher without contraceptive use. That translates into an estimated 272,000 additional mothers who would die each year giving birth, above the current figure for maternal mortality.
The evidence confirms that providing a woman with the right to decide when and how many children to have is beneficial in many different ways for her, her family, her nation and the world.
The series ranks the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR), which reflects the striking yet well-known relationship between higher maternal mortality in countries with lower contraceptive use. It is estimated that contraceptive use has reduced maternal deaths by 44 percent by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies.
Furthermore, if all women around the world who want to space or limit their births had access to contraceptives, maternal mortality would be reduced an additional 30 percent from the current figure. The health benefits of family planning are astounding!
From the environmental impact perspective, researchers show that carbon dioxide emissions from use of energy respond almost proportionately to changes in population size. They note that having an ageing population, which is happening in many societies where the growth rate has slowed, could reduce future emissions. Rapid urbanization, happening in many other societies, could increase emissions. These researchers conclude that on balance, slowing population growth through increased voluntary contraceptive use would have profound climate-related benefits.
Population trends around the world are also addressed in The Lancet series, from rapid population growth, mostly in the developing world, to even negative growth in some European countries. Both scenarios present challenges to a population’s well-being that will need to be addressed through informed policy decisions.
An interesting perspective on effects of family planning on poverty, hunger, primary education, and promotion of gender equality is presented in another paper. These issues relate to Millennium Development Goals 1, 2, and 3, and studies have shown the enormous benefits of spacing births on a woman’s improved income and nutrition, increased opportunities to work in the formal labor force, as well as improved nutrition and education of her children. The economic benefits can be seen at both the household level and the country level.
Finally, researchers present the human rights perspective, that human rights can shape policies and programs to increase access to contraceptives. From this perspective, civil societies and other stakeholders can hold governments and all providers accountable for the quality of services offered.
Regardless of which perspective rings most true for you, the evidence confirms that providing a woman with the right to decide when and how many children to have is beneficial in many different ways for her, her family, her nation and the world.
And here’s the thing about the evidence provided by the Lancet series: it will not disappear on account of personal belief or preferences. It is here to guide policies, to generate commitments, to monitor progress of family planning programs, and to aid course correction when necessary.
The Lancet series shows strong evidence of the massive benefits of family planning programs and presents a compelling argument for increased investments and global attention. I also hope it is a way to hold all partners accountable to commitments made during the Summit in an effort to take the trend of family planning and make it the next norm of everyday life for millions of women around the world.
Do you believe every girl and woman should have the opportunity to determine her own future? Spread the word that contraception is not controversial. Take the pledge, share your own story, and ask your online communities to do the same!