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No Controversy: Family Planning Saves Lives

May 14, 2012

One of the foundation’s core values is optimism. Most likely you have seen this in action recently with Melinda Gates and her optimistic and courageous decision to re-shape the global agenda, stimulate new commitments, and create new mechanisms to transform family planning.

In her recent TEDxChange talk, she addresses the issues surrounding birth control and how it is literally life-saving for millions of women and children around the world. There should be #NoControversy about a woman’s right to plan when and how many children to have, to have the opportunity to improve her own health and that of her children, to educate her children and to grow her family’s economic productivity. For hundreds of millions of families, this is what family planning is really about – it’s not about abortion or population control.

But of course, any time politics, religion, and sex are intertwined, controversy tends to emerge.

You can see this in comments around the recent Newsweek article, New Crusade: Investing Billions in Women’s Health. We’re pleased to see that many very passionate people from both sides of the controversy have engaged in the conversation.

Some have equated birth control with abortion. Some with interference with procreation and God’s plan for how many children to have. Some believe that access to birth control promotes promiscuity, leading to more abortions and broken families.  Others argue that a woman who hides birth control from her husband is taking him out of the decision-making role that is his right and responsibility. Some programs have been rightly criticized for coercing sterilization on women and men.

Any time politics, religion, and sex are intertwined, controversy tends to emerge.

On the other hand, couples who are empowered to choose the number and the timing of pregnancies do so for many different reasons. The personal stories on the TEDxChange storytelling platform demonstrate many different views from women, and even a few men, on how contraceptives have changed their lives.

These stories are overwhelmingly positive—women who are thankful they had control to decide when to have children; women who could complete their studies before having a family; women and men who waited to have children in order to provide the best possible for them; women and men who chose to wait until they had the maturity, wisdom and resources to raise the most amazing children possible; people who recognize the responsibility that is parenthood and waited in order to do it right.

One poignant story came from an anonymous contributor in the United States:

I am from a family that, over 3 generations, dug its way out of abject poverty. Affordable contraception from Planned Parenthood allowed me to plan for when I was ready for children. This allowed me to complete both my bachelor’s degrees and my first master’s degree and THEN to have children with my husband. My children see their educated mother as in control of her destiny, and in turn that is their view of our world, that, through proven science, we can change the way we as humanity live, from just survival to success.

Both sides of this issue have the same information and evidence as to the health and economic benefits of planning pregnancies. We know that spacing children at least 3 years apart is better for the health of both mother and children. These children have improved chances of survival, more opportunities for education, and the families experience higher economic growth.  And we know that access to family planning information, supplies and services reduces the need for abortions.

However, as with any controversy, each side still reaches different conclusions due to pre-existing beliefs that are engrained in all of us, clearly on display in the comments from the Newsweek article and the personal stories posted on the TEDxChange website. Emotions are involved and often define opinions.

In this call for a global conversation on increasing access to contraception, we may not change the minds of some who are against birth control. However, there are millions of women around the world who want to plan their families, space their children, and whose religion or personal beliefs and convictions do not prohibit them from doing so. But they do not have reliable access to safe and effective modern methods of contraception.

The laws of controversy argue that the more the facts are known and agreed upon by all sides, the less controversy there is. My hope is that this conversation that Melinda has started will get us closer to the moment where it is not controversial that all women and men around the world have equitable access to contraceptives. There is no controversy in that.

Keep the conversation going; make your voice heard.

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