By Elaine Hanson, M.D.
March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on the status of women no matter where they live. At Planned Parenthood, we continue the work we began nearly a century ago – and in San Diego 50 years ago — to ensure that all women have access to quality, affordable health care including birth control because it’s a rights issue, a health issue, and an economic issue. Birth control has given women more opportunity to get an education, join the workforce, and make decisions that make their families and communities stronger.
While today contraception is broadly legal throughout the world, we know that women and girls across the globe continue to lack access to essential health care that would enable them to prevent unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and HIV/AIDS.
Time and again we see that countries are stronger when women play an equal role in society from running businesses to participating in policymaking.
It is this strategic interest as much as an issue of women’s rights that motivated the Obama administration to make family planning programs a key foreign policy priority. Under Secretary Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department made women’s health a central part of global health programs and has worked to fully integrate these programs into U.S. foreign policy.
As John Kerry takes over as Secretary of State, we have a renewed opportunity to draw attention to the 222 million women worldwide who want to prevent unintended pregnancy but lack access to modern birth control. Of course, we expect and hope that Secretary Kerry will sustain Secretary Clinton’s legacy, but we also know that it’s not enough to simply maintain the status quo.
And it takes money. Over the last three years, anti-women’s health politicians in Congress have attempted to cut funding for global reproductive health programs with each budget cycle.
At Planned Parenthood we call on our Congressional representatives to support Secretary Kerry in continuing the work that Secretary Clinton began by voting in favor of funding for these programs in the Foreign Operations budget.
We know that expanding access to family planning services saves lives. Evidence shows that we could cut maternal deaths by nearly one-third globally by making sure women across the globe have access to contraception.
These are sound investments. Current U.S. funding for international family planning programs provides birth control to more than 30 million women and couples around the world. These services and supplies help to avert 9.4 million unintended pregnancies, 4 million abortions, the majority of which are unsafe, and prevent the deaths of 22,000 women each year.
That’s why we need strong leadership from the State Department and a robust budget approved by Congress. We must continue to push for better policies and expanded access to vital health care for women and girls around the world, just as we do here at home.
Elaine Hanson, M.D. is Chair of the Board of Directors, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest