Population Matters

The Fight over Contraceptive Coverage Resumes

June 29th, 2012

The fight over health care is far from over, and neither is the fight over contraceptive coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday upheld the President’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), but the fights over health care insurance and the coverage of contraceptive services are far from over.  Opponents are already gearing up for a vote to repeal “Obamacare” in the House of Representatives next week.  In addition, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision will require Congress at some point to make changes in the state Medicaid provisions.   These legislative fights will almost certainly reopen the Congressional debate over contraception.  Opponents of family planning will try once again to restrict health insurance coverage of contraceptive services.

If you have any doubt about that, all you have to do is look at the footage of the protests outside the Supreme Court yesterday.  Most of the “anti-Obamacare” protesters yesterday were carrying signs opposing abortion and contraceptive coverage.  I was there.  I saw it firsthand. For better or worse, the battle over the ACA has become an extension of the war on contraception and reproductive rights.

Whatever you think of the ACA, opponents of abortion and family planning will use any fight over health care as an opportunity to limit contraceptive coverage.

We should not let that happen. Whatever Congress and the nation ultimately decide about America’s health care system, eliminating copay requirements for contraceptive services makes sense.  It not only makes reproductive health care more affordable for low-income women, it also reduces health care costs by helping to prevent unintended or unwanted pregnancies.  All women, including women who work for religiously-affiliated hospitals and schools, deserve full and adequate coverage of contraceptive services.

Don’t let contraceptive coverage become a casualty in the fight over health care.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President

Meeting the Need for Family Planning: Still a Long Way to Go

June 22nd, 2012

This week the Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released “Adding it Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services –Estimates for 2012.” The report indicates that there are an estimated 222 million women in the developing world today who want to avoid a pregnancy in the next two years, but who are not using a modern contraceptive method.

While the new number represents an increase from an earlier “Adding it Up” report indicating that there were 215 million women with “an unmet need” for family planning in 2008, the latest report revises that 2008 number up to 226 million.   Thus, the number of women with an “unmet need” has declined by an estimated 4 million over the past four years, virtually unchanged. The proportion of married women in the developing world using a modern method of birth control increased–but barely—from 56 percent in 2008 to 57 percent in 2012.

Notable progress has been made in some parts of the developing world over the past four years, but in the 69 poorest countries there was no decline in the absolute number of women with an “unmet need.”  In fact, there was an increase in sub-Saharan Africa, from 50 million in 2008 to 53 million in 2012.

The very slight decrease in unmet need shows that we are still a long way from realizing Millennium Development Goal 5b, which calls for universal access to family planning by 2015. This lack of progress is deadly:  287,000 women die every year from maternal mortality related causes.  Many of those deaths would be averted if every woman had access to family planning.   According to the Guttmacher Institute, modern methods of family planning will prevent 218 million unintended pregnancies and 118,000 maternal deaths in 2012.

The new Guttmacher Study reports that “the effects of filling the current unmet need for modern contraceptive methods would be dramatic:

  • Unintended pregnancies would decline by two-thirds, from 80 million to 26 million.
  • There would be 26 million fewer abortions (including 16 million fewer unsafe procedures).
  • There would be 21 million fewer unplanned births.
  • Seven million fewer miscarriages would occur.
  • Pregnancy-related deaths would drop by 79,000. Most of this reduction (48,000) would take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest levels of both maternal mortality and unmet need for contraception.
  • There would be 1.1 million fewer infant deaths.”

Family planning also makes economic sense. Currently the world spends $4 billion annually on family planning services and saves, as a consequence, $5.6 billion in maternal and newborn health costs. Guttmacher reports that it would cost an additional $4.1 billion to meet the unmet need for modern contraceptives in the developing world, but doing so would save $5.7 billion in other costs, including maternal and infant care.  If Congress wants to cut costs, it should boost, not cut, international family planning assistance:  for every $1.00 spent, we save $1.40.

For all these reasons, it is imperative that the United States join with other donor countries in boosting their funding commitments at the upcoming Family Planning Summit in London on July 11.  The summit, which is being hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has set the goal of expanding family planning services to an additional 120 million women in the developing world by 2020.  If that goal is to be met, the United States needs to boost its funding support, not cut it.

Make your voice heard! Tell Congress to do its part in making the goal of universal access to reproductive health services a reality.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

On the Road to Rio

June 12th, 2012

Dr. William E. Rees, a human ecologist, ecological economist, professor, and former director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning who is best known as the originator of the Ecological Footprint, has posted a blog ,“On the Use and Misuse of the Concept of Sustainability,” that should be required reading for everyone attending next week’s Rio+20 Earth Summit.

In his blog, which was posted last week, he notes that:

The concepts of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘sustainability’ continue to be subverted, distorted and otherwise misused in the ongoing political debates concerning global change and economic development. Society continues to be in deep denial of fundamental facts pertaining to contemporary biophysical reality and the increasingly global socio-cultural context within which the human universe is unfolding.

Rees’ message needs to be heard by all the delegates going to Rio.  In the deliberations leading up to the Rio Conference, most of the debate has been focused on making development “more sustainable,” but that’s not the same as “sustainable.” The difference is more than semantics.  As Rees notes in his blog:

The current scale of human economic activity on Earth is already excessive; the human enterprise is in a state of unsustainable ‘overshoot.’ By this we mean that the consumption and dissipation of energy and material resources exceed the regenerative and assimilative capacity of supportive ecosystems. Many critical stocks of ‘natural capital’ are in decline and global waste sinks are filled to overflowing. ‘Business as usual’ for today’s global human enterprise is clearly unsustainable. Any society that is living by depleting its capital assets is unsustainable by definition.

Rees’ warning is echoed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which just released the fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5).  In preparing this year’s report, UNEP examined 500 internationally agreed goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing biodiversity loss, and numerous other environmental safeguards.  It found that “significant progress” has been made on only four of the 90 most important of the environmental goals and objectives.

In unveiling the GEO-5 report,  UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, warned that “If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation.”

In issuing that warning, Steiner was echoing what scientists all around the globe have been saying. As part of the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit, thousands of scientists attended a March “Planet under Pressure” conference in London.  The attendees produced a “State of the Planet Declaration,” which cautioned that, “the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk….creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.”

Similar conclusions were issued in April when England’s prestigious Royal Society produced a “People and the Planet” report, which warned that current rates of population and consumption growth are not sustainable.  This week’s edition of Nature, a leading scientific journal, raises similar concerns.

The hope is, although it’s a fading one, that this month’s Rio+20 Summit will re-engage the global community and steer humanity onto a sustainable path. With world population projected to climb from 7 billion to 9 billion or higher by 2042, and the world economy still on track to triple or quadruple in size by mid-century, the task of reconciling what we demand from the planet with what the planet can sustainably provide is daunting, if not impossible.

The 1992 Earth Summit produced a lot of good rhetoric, but little in the way of follow up.  We cannot afford to make that mistake again.  Exhortations alone will not suffice.  We need action in the form of binding agreements and more funding, including more support for voluntary family planning.

Let’s hope that next week’s Rio+20 Conference is the path to a new beginning…not another dead end street.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President

47 Years Later and We are Still Fighting

June 11th, 2012

Last week marked the 47th Anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court case that gave married couples the right to use birth control. Single people would not gain that right until 1972, just one year before the more controversial and more well-known Roe v. Wade ruling. This means that as a 32-year-old woman I have never known a world where birth control or abortion was illegal. While I grew up listening to the controversy surrounding Roe v. Wade and the fight to ensure that women keep the right to access abortion care, most people around my age or younger never heard of Griswold v. Connecticut, and never considered it possible that we could lose access to birth control.

We always thought of birth control as commonly used and non-controversial and there are data to backup that belief. A recent Gallup poll found that 89 percent of all Americans and 82 percent of U.S. Catholics agree that birth control is morally acceptable.  Because of this I know that if I had talked to my friends two years ago and told them that the conservative right wanted to ban not only abortions, but birth control as well, they would have thought that I was crazy. But fast forward to 2011 and the beginning of the war on women through the present day, and it doesn’t seem so farfetched.

During the run for the GOP nomination we saw candidates trying to outdo each other in their stand against birth control and women’s health. From Mitt Romney saying that he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood to Newt Gingrich saying “that, as president, I would defund Planned Parenthood and shift the money to pay for adoptions to give young women the choice of life rather than death.”

The most extreme comments came from Rick Santorum. He didn’t go with the more subtle route of attacking Planned Parenthood he went straight after birth control  saying “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country….many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s OK, contraception is OK.’ It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum went even further when asked early this year if he thought states should be able to outlaw birth control when he said, “The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right; the state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have.”

However, the effort to ban birth control goes beyond Rick Santorum; it has been gaining popularity in states under the guise of “personhood” bills or amendments declaring that life begins at conception, and giving full legal rights to a fertilized egg. This type of law would outlaw all abortions and possibly would make certain forms of birth control, stem cell research and infertility treatments illegal. “Personhood” laws could make some forms of hormonal birth control illegal by arguing that life begins at fertilization. While hormonal forms of birth control block fertilization, they may also block the implantation of a fertilized egg, and thus be construed as killing a “person” under the “personhood” laws. This would mean that birth control pills, IUDs, and emergency contraception would all be illegal.  So far no “personhood” bills have become law, but it is not for lack of trying.

So happy 47th Anniversary Griswold v. Connecticut! With the war on contraceptives showing no sign of slowing down I hope you are around to see a 50th anniversary.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy