- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The newly re-elected Obama administration should promote contraception as a human right, domestically and throughout the world, a veteran House member said Wednesday as a new report on global family-planning was released.

“What the presidential election result means is that millions of women here in the United States will continue to receive family planning services through Planned Parenthood, and the United States will continue to fund the important programs of the U.N. Population Fund,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat.

Women and men everywhere need access to education, counseling and services on birth control and legal, safe abortion, she said.

“This is a human-rights issue,” Ms. Maloney added. “I think that was the fundamental lesson to draw from our elections here in the United States.”

The congresswoman’s remarks coincided with the release of a report on global family planning by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The State of World Population Report 2012 says 222 million women of reproductive age in developing countries need affordable birth control, including abortion services, and if an additional $4 billion was directed to meet this need, the costs for maternal and newborn health care could fall by more than $11 billion a year.

“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA.

“Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women,” he said.

Moreover, Dr. Osotimehin said, family planning is a human right — not a privilege — and therefore any type of obstacle to it “must be removed.”

Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, expressed concern about the UNFPA report’s statements about “ensuring universal access” to family planning.

It’s “another way of saying that any disagreement is to be squelched; that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are irrelevant when family planning ‘rights’ are at stake,” said Mrs. Crouse.

The UNPFA report also did not delve into reported abuses in China, such as incidents in which family-planning officials dragged Chinese women into clinics and forced them to submit to abortions or sterilizations.

“UNFPA is very, very strongly committed to the right of individuals to choose family planning when they want to use it, and it works closely with the Chinese government to ensure that the national family planning program is as voluntary as possible,” said Margaret Greene, lead author of the UNFPA report, said on a media conference call.

Family planning needs to be voluntary, agreed Sarah Craven, chief of the UNFPA’s Washington office. “Engaging in China is a difficult task,” she said, “but we continue to push that human-rights agenda forward, as we do in any country that we work in around the world.”

“Forcing a woman to terminate a pregnancy that she wants is clearly wrong but so is forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy that she does not want,” said Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at Guttmacher Institute.

But Reggie Littlejohn, whose Women’s Rights Without Frontiers opposes China’s one-child birth policy, said the UNFPA report’s title, “By Choice, Not By Chance,” was ironic.

“What about the 600 million women in China who are unable to ‘decide on the number and spacing of [their] children,’ not because they lack access to contraception but because they will be forcibly aborted if they get pregnant without a birth permit?” she asked.

Moreover, the UNFPA report explicitly calls for family-planning services for women who are young and single, but it doesn’t address China’s law forbidding births to single women and its efforts to perform abortions on women who break that law, said Ms. Littlejohn. Practices such as these are “state-sponsored violence against women,” she added.

Dr. Osotimehin praised a London summit on family planning held in July, during which donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $2.6 billion in funding for family planning. Another $2 billion was pledged by leaders of developing countries. These funds will be used to make voluntary family planning to around 120 million girls and women in 69 developing countries by 2020.

“This is a positive step forward. However, we need to do more, much more,” he said, urging spending around $8 billion a year for family planning.

According to the UNFPA report, the five countries where modern contraceptive products are most commonly used are China, United Kingdom, Portugal, Norway and Costa Rica. In the United States, contraceptive prevalence is about 73 percent; those countries are all 80 percent or higher.

The countries where modern contraceptives are most rarely used, at 5 percent or lower, are Somalia, Chad, Angola, Eritrea, Guinea and Niger.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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