This article is co-authored by Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund.
Over the past year, the United
States has done much to reestablish its standing in the world. On Friday, Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made another monumental stride forward by
announcing our nation’s renewed commitment to ensuring that women worldwide have access to safe and
effective reproductive health care.
We agree with Secretary Clinton: The
status quo is unacceptable. Some
215 million women worldwide report that they do not have the option to delay or
avoid pregnancy, something which most women in wealthy countries take for
granted. Every year more than half a million women — nearly all of whom live in
developing countries — die of pregnancy-related causes. Moreover, one in
three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if women who
wanted effective contraception had access to it.
Behind the statistics are the
stories of the women our colleagues meet around the world. Recently,
a single mother came to a clinic in Peru to give birth to her fifth child. She explained that it was an unplanned
pregnancy and that she was mired in poverty and did not have the resources to
care for the four children she had already. She meekly asked a member of the clinic
staff to take her newborn baby from her and raise it. Had she been given access to
contraceptives and family planning, she would not have been forced into this
kind of despair.
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Secretary Clinton’s promise of support
for women like this one would go a long way to making good on our commitment to
promote the health of women and their families by ensuring that they have
increased access to the family planning they need. The Secretary’s pledge
builds upon a commitment the United States made 15 years ago — at the
International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). At this historic
meeting, 179 countries, including the United States, vowed to achieve universal
access to reproductive health care by 2014. We knew then what we know today: giving women and girls
access to reproductive health care is vital to strengthening families,
communities and societies.
Most experts believe that the
global community needs to devote $6.7 billion annually to achieve the goal of
universal access to reproductive health. We strongly believe that the United States should contribute its
fair share, at least $1 billion annually. Providing this funding is essential to making good on the commitment
we made in 1994. It will also get
us closer to moving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
from goals to realities.
Investing $1 billion in family
planning programs that provide education, counseling and contraceptives on a
voluntary basis to women and couples would help millions of families live
better lives. It would also help
achieve major reductions in infant and maternal mortality, HIV infections and
A 2009 Guttmacher Institute and
United Nations Population Fund study further demonstrated this impact. Meeting
the global need for family planning and reproductive health could eliminate an
estimated 75 million unintended pregnancies and 20 million unsafe and illegal
abortions each year. When women are able to control the number and spacing of
their children, families have more resources to direct toward the children that
they choose to have. Those children are consequently better fed and educated,
as well as more frequently vaccinated.
Over the last 30 years, U.S.
funding levels for international family planning programs have experienced
peaks and valleys. However, since 2006, Congress has approved steady increases
for reproductive health and family planning programs. The Fiscal Year
2010 appropriations bill, adopted last month, had broad bipartisan support and
contained $648.5 million, record spending for reproductive health and family
While funding levels are moving in the right direction, the United States can
and must do more. Considering the
value it could offer, a $1 billion investment in international reproductive
health and family planning is a smart opportunity that we cannot afford to
miss. We applaud Secretary Clinton for moving us closer than ever to meeting
our obligation to the women of the world.