Today is World Contraception Day. And we still have a long way to go to make sure that every woman has access to affordable contraception. While in the recent years we have made tremendous progress in the U.S. and around the world, there are still many things we could do to remove the barriers that still impact women and girls in marginalized communities. Here are three things that need immediate attention.
Lack of access and information is still a problem in the United States: Even with recent progress in reducing teen pregnancy, the U.S. is among the seven countries where half of all the adolescent births in the world take place. Other countries include Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Ethiopia.
This is not surprising given more than 20% of teens reported not using contraception the first time they had sex and only 4.3% of teen girls who use contraceptives said they used the most effective method, long-acting reversible contraceptives.
Partly due to disparities in access to information and resources for contraception usage, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.
We are on the verge of a global crisis: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is $140 million short in its funding. This will prevent the organization from providing much-needed services for women in the most disadvantaged countries around the world.
Right now, an estimated 20 million women resort to unsafe abortions to end unintended pregnancies every year. This causes around 47,000 women to die annually. The funding shortfall and even more limited access to contraception will endanger more women’s lives.
The shortfall will impact young girls and victims of child marriages disproportionately. Around the world more than 2 million girls 14 and under give birth every year. They are at significantly higher risk of complications that kill and maim as well as being prevented from finishing school and reaching their full potential.
Zika virus adds urgency to making contraception and information available: The world is facing what the World Health Organization has called a Global Health Emergency. Zika is particularly terrifying for pregnant women and girls as it can lead to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes major developmental delays, seizures, hearing and vision loss, and other issues. In Latin America and the Caribbean, where one out of ten women lack access to contraception, fears are exasperated and causing more women to seek unsafe life-threatening abortions.
Zika is not a problem only in Latin America. In the recent months, there have been thousands of cases of infections, including more than 2,000 cases of infection in pregnant women, in the U.S. and territories as well. In the U.S., while accessing contraceptives might be easier, ten percent of people at risk of an unintended pregnancy still do not use them.
Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to use the need for Zika funding to push their long-term objective of punishing Planned Parenthood despite months of pleading from Democrats and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is running out of funds needed to continue its valuable services.
All this is pretty grim but here is the good news: for every dollar we invest in sexual and reproductive health and unmet need for contraception, the world can save four dollars to use in other development areas. Investing in making contraception available to women to increase their autonomy over their own bodies is not only the ethically right thing to do, it is also the smart thing for our families, communities and world.
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