Last month marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day. It was a time to celebrate women’s advancements as well as a time to reflect over the inequalities we’ve faced historically and continue to face today. While women have made huge strides in the social, economic, and political spheres, our most fundamental right—the right to control our reproductive health—remains in serious jeopardy all over the world. We have to continue to build a future that ensures access to safe, effective, appropriate, and acceptable ways for each woman to protect her health and control her fertility.
Thanks to exciting new Multipurpose Prevention Technologies (MPTs), we have the potential to revolutionize a woman’s control over her reproductive life. MPTs are combinations of devices (e.g., cervical barriers and vaginal rings), drugs, vaccines, and gels. They’re designed to meet different reproductive health needs, and can be paired differently to prevent unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and other reproductive tract infections. For example, a single-size cervical barrier could potentially prevent pregnancy as well as deliver an HIV-preventing microbicide. Globally, MPTs would limit the incidence of unsafe abortion and childbearing by curbing the number of unintended births. As a result, they would improve the health and survival of both mother and child. This is no ordinary achievement. In 2008, expanding contraceptive access averted 230,000 maternal deaths and 1.2 million infant deaths. Accessible and easy to use, MPTs would provide a sustainable reproductive care option for many women worldwide.
It’s no surprise that MPTs hold great promise for developing countries. Varied and versatile, they would mediate the scarce reproductive services and fractured healthcare systems common to the poorest and remotest regions. MPTs would make families more healthy, productive, and prosperous where poor maternal health and unwanted pregnancies hinder stability and growth. In short, they’re weapons in the war against poverty.
Unfortunately, anti-choice groups are waging their own war—a war on women worldwide. Recently, the House passed a Continuing Resolution that predicts dire consequences for poor women and jeopardizes MPTs’ potential to aid development. The resolution restricts access to the contraceptive options that MPTs provide. It eliminates funding for the United Nations Population Fund and cuts U.S. funding for international family planning by 15%, when our share of family planning efforts far exceeds $1 billion! It also cuts funding for global HIV/AIDS assistance. Sadly, poor women would be disproportionately affected by these policies. Around 99% of maternal and infant mortality and 95% of HIV/AIDS cases occur in the developing world. With every $100 million in funding cuts, there would be six million fewer women receiving contraceptive services, 800,000 more unplanned births, 600,000 more unsafe abortions, and 5,000 more maternal deaths. Effectively, anti-choice groups would be robbing these vulnerable women of the reproductive care they need and deserve.
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To champions of women’s rights (that is, human rights): It’s time to act. We must create an environment that increases access to safe and effective reproductive technologies and supports reproductive healthcare at home and abroad. Let’s make this a milestone in women’s history. To learn more about MPTs, visit the Coalition Advancing Multipurpose Innovations.