Life Without Contraception

Andrea Lynch

[img_assist|nid=598|title=Special Series|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]Last week, while American anti-contraception activists gathered in Chicago to discuss how contraception (a.k.a. the "taproot" of abortion) is destroying America, a group of African health ministers and other African Union leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique to discuss how ensuring women's access to contraception and related sexual and reproductive health services might help Save Africa. Apparently, the African Union has not gotten the memo about how contraception is NOT the answer. But, in the great tradition of the Pro-Life Action League, it's time to take a closer look...

Last week, while American anti-contraception activists gathered in Chicago to discuss how contraception (a.k.a. the "taproot" of abortion) is destroying America, a group of African health ministers and other African Union leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique to discuss how ensuring women's access to contraception and related sexual and reproductive health services might help Save Africa. Apparently, the African Union has not gotten the memo about how contraception is NOT the answer. But, in the great tradition of the Pro-Life Action League, it's time to take a closer look…

My colleagues at Rewire have provided ample background on and coverage of Chicago's Contraception is Not the Answer, but here's a quick history lesson, according to the conference website: everything was fine until the mid-twentieth century. Then, the industrialized world "embraced contraception as the way to eradicate poverty, lower the birth rate and guarantee freedom for women." Sadly, contraception didn't do any of those things. Instead, it caused "widespread promiscuity, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, single parent households and abortion." Now, according to the conference organizers, "It's time to take a closer look." We must face the fact that "Contraception has succeeded in separating marital intimacy from procreation and turning sex into a recreational activity rather than an expression of love and commitment."

I guess it follows, then, that in societies where access to contraception and abortion is scarce, marital intimacy is always linked to procreation and sex is always an expression of love and commitment. And given the conference's emphasis on the supposed health risks associated with contraception and abortion, I think we can also safely assume that a contraception- and abortion-free society would naturally enjoy a high standard of reproductive health.

It's funny, because according to the health ministers who gathered in Maputo last week, despite scarce access to sexual and reproductive health services (including contraception and safe abortion), Africa is NOT in fact the reproductive health capital of the world, and sex is NOT always an expression of love and commitment. Check out these statistics, courtesy of Inter Press Service, the WHO, research compiled by the AMANITARE Initiative, and the African newsletter Pambazuka News:

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  • Inadequate access to quality health services, unsafe abortions and lack of reproductive health care cause the deaths of at least 241,000 women each year in Africa, one of the highest rates in the world.
  • A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a one in 16 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a 1 in 2,500 chance in the United States (and a 1 in 5,800 chance in the UK, where contraception and abortion are even MORE accessible).
  • Since abortion is illegal under almost all circumstances in most African countries, unsafe abortions claims the lives of some 34,000 African women annually.
  • A study among high school students in Swaziland found that almost one in five of the sexually active female students' first sexual experience had been coerced.
  • According to the 2003 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 34 per cent of women of reproductive age who want to use contraception lack access to it.
  • In most Sub-Saharan countries, 60 percent of married teenagers reported that they did not wish to have a child in the near future.

Obviously, increasing access to contraception alone won't make these women's sexual and reproductive rights a reality–but, as the participants at the Maputo conference concluded, it's a start. And before the Contraception Is Not The Answer organizers wax nostalgic about the days when women in industrialized countries lacked access to contraception, maybe they should take a closer look at African women's lives.

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