Commentary Health Systems

On International Women’s Day, Let’s Celebrate Our Success – Not Dismantle It

Latanya Mapp Frett

Politics should not stand in the way of women’s access to family planning.  Investing in women’s health leads to a healthier, more prosperous society — this is the legacy we should be exporting. On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate our success, not try to dismantle it.

Today is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements and acknowledging their contributions to society. In 2012, we have much to celebrate. Women’s health and rights have made great strides in the past century. Yet there are some in positions of power who would like to take us back in time.

The Obama administration’s decision to cover birth control without co-pays under the Affordable Care Act has revealed the extreme positions held by some members of Congress. The same people who oppose legal abortion would like to bar women’s access to the most effective means of preventing unintended pregnancy and abortion. And these same opponents of birth control coverage for American women want to slash U.S. foreign aid for international family planning programs.

To lay out in the simplest terms why support for birth control for all women is so important, Planned Parenthood Global created this animated video (above). We’re calling it Health Has No Borders and it links to a petition by the same name urging Congress to support strong investments in international family planning programs. Actress Connie Britton of TV’s Friday Night Lights narrates.

Those of us who work in public health know firsthand the consequences of denying women access to birth control. The picture is grim.

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There are 215 million women worldwide who want to plan or space their births but lack access to modern contraception. Virtually all of these women live in developing countries, where pregnancy poses potential health hazards. When women can’t access birth control, they experience high rates of unintended pregnancy, which leads to high rates of unsafe abortion, pregnancy complications, and maternal and infant deaths.

The benefits of investing in the health of women and their newborns lead to substantially fewer unintended pregnancies and dramatic reductions in maternal and infant deaths. Evidence shows that fewer women die from pregnancy-related causes in countries with strong, publicly funded family planning programs.

Here in the U.S., we are lucky to live in a country with some public support for family planning. The vast majority of women who need it have access to modern contraception. But half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended, and the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world.

The president’s recent budget request to Congress protects funding for family planning programs at home and abroad. But it’s up to Congress to approve these requests in the final budget. They should not balance the budget on women’s backs. Women deserve access to contraceptives and quality health care no matter where they live.

Let’s urge lawmakers to protect access and funding for family planning services for all women. Politics should not stand in the way of women’s access to family planning.  Investing in women’s health leads to a healthier, more prosperous society — this is the legacy we should be exporting. On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate our success, not try to dismantle it.

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