On July 11, leaders from around the world are meeting in London at the Family Planning Summit to express support for a fundamental component of reproductive rights — the right of every woman to decide freely and responsibly whether, when, and how many children she will have. This is a right most women in the United States have had the luxury of taking for granted in recent generations, unlike women in developing countries where 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur. The statistics are staggering — every two minutes a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications. For many, limited access to voluntary, safe, and effective modern contraception, information, and services becomes a matter of life and death.
More than 200 million women and girls in developing countries who want to use family planning to delay or avoid becoming pregnant do not have access to modern contraception. Addressing this human rights issue and health inequity has been a priority for the Obama Administration, because we understand the linkages between family planning and women’s health and a wide range of development issues including poverty reduction, girl’s education, maternal and child health, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. For over 40 years the U.S. government, through the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has been committed to supporting effective and sustainable family planning programs. In this fiscal year the U.S. contributed over $640 million through USAID for bilateral family planning and reproductive health programs, and $35 million to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is a world leader in providing life-saving family planning and reproductive health information and services.
Hosted by the U.K. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with support from UNFPA, the Family Planning Summit will build on this solid foundation. The Summit will seek financial and political support to provide access to contraceptives, information, and services for an additional 120 million women in the poorest countries. The goal is that by 2020 a total of 380 million women and girls in developing countries will be able to plan the number, timing, and spacing of their children. By meeting this need for contraception, maternal mortality would be reduced by one third and deaths of children under five reduced by one quarter. Reducing unintended pregnancies would also lead to fewer girls dropping out of school — and the longer children stay in school the higher their lifetime earnings will be, enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty. Families become healthier, wealthier, and better educated as the benefits pass to the next generation because mothers who have had an education are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school as mothers with no education.
Every woman and girl deserves the opportunity to determine her own future — it’s what we all want and work hard to achieve for our own children. We’ve long since come to expect that most mothers in the United States will live through the process of giving birth, to love and nurture their children, to contribute to the health and well being of their families, and to play a meaningful role in their communities and the prosperity of our country. We should expect and accept no less for all women and girls — regardless of income, education, and geography. We all deserve the opportunity for healthy, happy, and productive lives.