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On Valentine's Day, Let's Work Towards Worldwide Access to Birth Control

02/13/2014 06:36 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2014

Historically, sex, sexuality and reproductive health have been used to subjugate women and keep them "in their place." It is plain and simple to me that as women, because we are women, and because we have a different set of genitalia, we don't have equality. And it is obvious to me why women should have access to reproductive care, and birth control, and pap smears and breast exams. However, it is not obvious to everybody.

When it comes to birth control, the equation is very straightforward: The more children a poor woman has, the harder it will be for her and her family to climb out of poverty. Or, in a society in which women are still the primary caretakers, having unplanned children means a lot more obstacles, and roadblocks, for said woman to move forward and create a better life.

Fundamentalists, and those in the religious right want to simplify it into "well, then they shouldn't be having sex." But it's not as simple as that. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared sex as something "enriching" and that "enhance[s] personality, communication and love". It also stated that "fundamental to this concepts are the right to sexual information and the right to pleasure."

But if that doesn't convince some people, then maybe the fact that unplanned pregnancies also happen within married couples and will also create obstacles for growth to said married individuals might mean something.

As time has gone by, middle and upper class women in developed countries have grown to enjoy better access to birth control, and in turn have been able to enjoy the freedoms that come with being able to control whether or not to have children. The benefits of being in control of one's sexual life, sexuality and reproductive health are numerous, but not all women are growing to enjoy these benefits at the same pace.

Poor and ethnic women in developed countries, and most women in developing countries still have to deal with the repercussions of not having affordable access to birth control, and reproductive health services.

Depending on the birth control, a woman can spend up to $1,400 per year on birth control. Obviously, this can be an obstacle for women who don't have access to that extra money. Thankfully, because of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, women will have access to birth control free through their insurance providers. But not everyone will be able to get insurance, and even condoms are hard to come by. In cities or rural areas where the public transportation is not the easiest to navigate, finding and then accessing a clinic where one can get a hold of free condoms is not an easy task.

And never mind in other countries, where resources are lower, and where not only is it harder to access, but cultural and societal shaming are even greater than here in the United States. And remember, this is the country where a public media figure called a Georgetown University student a "slut" and a "prostitute" for wanting birth control to be accessible through insurance.

We can talk about the economics of it. I'm not going to lie. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that it would cost $4.1 billion more dollars to provide family planning services to women around the globe. $4.1 billion. However, spending those $4.1 billion would save $11.3 billion each year on health care for new mothers and infants. So family planning, and preventing unplanned pregnancies could save us a total of $7.2 billion around the globe.

Not only that, but as the Executive Director of the UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, stated,

Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development. [...] the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women's increased labor-force participation boosts nations' economies.


Obviously, mathematically and economically, family planning services make sense.

Or we could talk about the religious factor of it. One of the most strident arguments about family planning services is the fact that people see it as going against their religious beliefs. I could point out the need for separation of church and state, but I won't focus on that. Instead, I will point this out: in countries where abortion is legalized and birth control is easily and readily available, abortion rates are lower than in most other countries.

An example of how this works, is this: in the year 2000, here in the United States, it is estimated that emergency contraception, or Plan B, prevented about 51,000 abortions. Or let's look at France, who has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. At 12 per 1,000 women, it has half the U.S. abortion rate. Emergency contraception is readily available over the counter, and 65% of the cost can be reimbursed to the buyer through the national health insurance. Emergency contraception is available at schools (through the school nurse), and minors can get it at the pharmacy, free, and without parental notification. The fact that it is so easily available to anyone who may need it is part of the reason why France has half the abortion rate that the US has.

Furthermore, a "hypothetical scenario calculated in the late 1980s projected that if emergency contraceptives were widely available in the United States, 1.7 million unintended pregnancies could be avoided each year, and the annual number of abortions could be cut by 800,000."

Another country we could look at is Switzerland. Switzerland has an even lower abortion rate, at 6.8 per 1,000 women. They attribute these low rates to having access to family planning services, and education. Sex-Ed is the norm in most public schools, as is a visit to the gynecologist to get birth control, once someone becomes sexually active.

So obviously, from a religious standpoint, and in efforts to lower the rates of abortion, supporting family planning services makes sense.

But lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, supporting family planning services is the right thing to do because it is good for women. Plain and simple. In my opinion, we shouldn't need religious reasons, or economic reasons, or any other reason besides the fact that it is good for women.

As the UN put it when it declared birth control a human right "when a woman is able to exercise her reproductive rights, she is more able to benefit from other rights, such as the right to education. The results are higher incomes, better health for her and her children, and greater decision-making power for her, both in the household and the community."

So because of all of these reasons, I agree with the United Nations that declaring birth control a human right back in 2012. But on this Valentine's Day and thereafter, what can we do to help more women gain access to birth control here and abroad?

To begin with, you can, of course, support your local Planned Parenthood or family planning clinic through donations or volunteering. Or, if you'd like to help women gain access to birth control in an international level, you can do so through Marie Stopes, or Planned Parenthood Global, or the International Planned Parenthood Federation. [Full disclosure, I am a Planned Parenthood employee, but this article represents my personal views.]

But there's numerous other options: You could support The Women's Health Protection Act, which is a bill introduced into the House and the Senate last month to stop the constant attack on women's abortion rights in States like Texas. And which is a counterattack on a vicious bill called TRAP (for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) which would create Federal-wide restricting abortion laws.

Or, at its most basic, simply vote. And vote for candidates that are pro-women, and candidates that see Reproductive Health as a Human Right too.