The One Billion Dollar Opportunity

Over the past year, the United States has done much to reestablish its standing in the world. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made another monumental stride forward by announcing our nation’s renewed commitment to ensuring that women worldwide have access to safe and effective reproductive health care.

We agree with Secretary Clinton: The status quo is unacceptable. Some 215 million women worldwide report that they do not have the option to delay or avoid pregnancy, something which most women in wealthy countries take for granted. Every year more than half a million women — nearly all of whom live in developing countries — die of pregnancy-related causes. Moreover, one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if women who wanted effective contraception had access to it.

Behind the statistics are the stories of the women our colleagues meet around the world. Recently, a single mother came to a clinic in Peru to give birth to her fifth child. She explained that it was an unplanned pregnancy and that she was mired in poverty and did not have the resources to care for the four children she had already. She meekly asked a member of the clinic staff to take her newborn baby from her and raise it. Had she been given access to contraceptives and family planning, she would not have been forced into this kind of despair.

Secretary Clinton’s promise of support for women like this one would go a long way to making good on our commitment to promote the health of women and their families by ensuring that they have increased access to the family planning they need. The Secretary’s pledge builds upon a commitment the United States made 15 years ago — at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). At this historic meeting, 179 countries, including the United States, vowed to achieve universal access to reproductive health care by 2014. We knew then what we know today: giving women and girls access to reproductive health care is vital to strengthening families, communities and societies.

Most experts believe that the global community needs to devote $6.7 billion annually to achieve the goal of universal access to reproductive health. We strongly believe that the United States should contribute its fair share, at least $1 billion annually. Providing this funding is essential to making good on the commitment we made in 1994. It will also get us closer to moving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from goals to realities.

Investing $1 billion in family planning programs that provide education, counseling and contraceptives on a voluntary basis to women and couples would help millions of families live better lives. It would also help achieve major reductions in infant and maternal mortality, HIV infections and global poverty.

A 2009 Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund study further demonstrated this impact. Meeting the global need for family planning and reproductive health could eliminate an estimated 75 million unintended pregnancies and 20 million unsafe and illegal abortions each year. When women are able to control the number and spacing of their children, families have more resources to direct toward the children that they choose to have. Those children are consequently better fed and educated, as well as more frequently vaccinated.

Over the last 30 years, U.S. funding levels for international family planning programs have experienced peaks and valleys. However, since 2006, Congress has approved steady increases for reproductive health and family planning programs. The Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill, adopted last month, had broad bipartisan support and contained $648.5 million, record spending for reproductive health and family planning.

While funding levels are moving in the right direction, the United States can and must do more. Considering the value it could offer, a $1 billion investment in international reproductive health and family planning is a smart opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. We applaud Secretary Clinton for moving us closer than ever to meeting our obligation to the women of the world.

Cecile Richards is the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Timothy E. Wirth is the President of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund. UN Dispatch enjoys the sponsorship of the UN Foundation


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