The Politics of Women's Health
Why Birth Control is Essential to Women Everywhere
Despite the advances that have been made in contraception over the past fifty years, an estimated 222 million women worldwide cannot get the birth control they want and need.
Access to safe, appropriate, and affordable family planning and abortion care helps women have children when they desire and saves lives. It can prevent dangers from pregnancies that are:
Too Soon. A quarter of the world’s women live in countries where the average age at first birth is less than 20 years old. A woman who bears children at a younger age tends to have more children overall, is less able to provide for them, and is more likely to suffer ill health. Children born to very young mothers are also more likely to have health problems.
Too Late. Older women face more danger in pregnancy and birth if they have other health problems or have had many children.
Too Close. A woman’s body needs time to heal between pregnancies—ideally 18 months or more.
Too Many. A woman with more than four children has a greater risk of death after childbirth from bleeding and other causes.
Not Wanted. Women who have unwanted pregnancies are more likely to have abortions. Unfortunately, nearly half of all abortions worldwide are considered unsafe, which means they are performed by an individual lacking the necessary skills, or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both. Unsafe abortion is common in places where abortion is illegal. Each year about 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion, making it a leading cause of maternal death.
By delaying and spacing out childbearing, a woman increases her chances of finishing school and finding work that will provide a viable income. Modern birth control methods also have other health benefits, like improving anemia by reducing menstrual bleeding. Male and female condoms also prevent the spread of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
Access to family planning and abortion care has improved over time, but significant barriers remain, especially where health care systems are weak. Barriers to family planning access include lack of knowledge about contraception, limited choices, high costs, limited supplies, long distances to services, too few trained healthcare providers, and cultural or personal objections. In some places the right of a woman to choose when and how many children she has is seen as someone else’s decision or right. In other cases, women are pressured or even forced to have children in order to have a child of the desired sex, usually male.
All women deserve access to safe, affordable birth control and abortion care. To find out more about efforts to improve family planning access around the world, see:
Written by: Kirsten Thompson
Last revised: February 2014
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