Posted on | July 9, 2012 by Wendy Wright |
The Lancet medical journal launched its series on contraception today with a rah-rah introduction at an event held in conjunction with the Summit on Family Planning in London. “The link between contraception and the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] was missing,” announced the emcee. “Now we have the evidence needed in the Lancet papers. This will launch a new social movement. It will correct the mistake that family planning was not in the MDGs.”
The sparsely attended event drew the kinds of people who would make up this hoped-for social movement: Activists for population control and abortion rights. They may have left disappointed. While the papers set out to declare that contraception is the key to improving women’s lives and to development, presentations revealed mixed messages and questioning from audience members uncovered holes in the arguments.
The first paper purported to guess the reduction in maternal mortality if the “unmet need” for contraception were met. The paper on “Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use” introduces the problem by noting the “the excessive hazards associated with pregnancies that are ‘too early, too late, too many or too frequent’.” A member of the audience asked why the paper didn’t aggregate by age since early pregnancy and later pregnancy pose higher risks. The presenter conceded data isn’t available on age.
The next presentation exposed wedges among the family planning/abortion/population control advocates. The presenter on “Global Population Trends and Policy Options” noted that both low and high fertility need to be addressed. On average, in most developed countries, “women desire more children than they have.”
A representative from Amnesty International took the opportunity during questioning to aggressively argue that “legal access” for family planning and abortion should be on the Summit’s agenda. Amnesty and other pro-abortion groups are campaigning for the Summit organizers to openly require commitments from governments to legalize abortion-on-demand.
The presenter noted that Eastern Europe has low fertility and high access to contraception, and abortion rates higher than the fertility rate. Yet, as if picking up a flag that has fallen, he threw in that Eastern Europe still has an “unmet need” for contraception.
Another speaker advocated for using arguments for child spacing to overcome resistance to using and funding contraception. When asked about evidence for child spacing reducing maternal mortality (a Millennium Development Goal – remember Lancet’s introductory promise), he sheepishly acknowledged “better spacing does not help maternal deaths.”
Stating what is well-known outside the single-issue world of contraception/abortion advocates, one Lancet contributor noted the factors that speed fertility transition are: Reduce child mortality [so women are not having children to replace ones that die], and schooling for females. After recounting economic consequences of fewer children, this Harvard economist put it in perspective: “The purpose of the world is not GDP per capita. People like to have children. It’s a person’s right to make trade-offs. Families are in the best position to make trade-offs and family planning decisions.”
A healthy reminder to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners at the Summit on Family Planning who are intent on reducing the number of children that women have.