Every year since 2007, World Contraception Day is observed on September 26th. Its goal is to improve awareness of all contraceptive methods and empower young people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. This year, it falls during the 75th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a global pandemic, and other global crises. That makes World Contraception Day especially relevant this year.
Access to modern contraception is critical for reaching Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals: achieving gender equality. Target 5.6 of Goal 5 is to "ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action." Just this past week, the SDG Action Zone took place, with world leaders convening virtually to accelerate progress toward the SDGs.
So it's a good time to assess the progress we have made, and acknowledge the work that is still needed to continue expanding access to family planning and modern contraception as a means of achieving gender equality. We have a long way to go.
Globally, only 52% of married women are free to make their own decisions about contraceptive use. Data on adolescent women and girls (aged 15-19) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) revealed that 32 million want to avoid a pregnancy, and the current contraception needs of 14 million (43%) are unmet.
It's been six months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. Back in April, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projected that should a lockdown continue for 6 months, 47 million women in 114 different LMICs may not be able to access modern contraceptives, and 7 million unintended pregnancies would occur as a result.
While most countries have begun re-opening in some capacity, health systems and supply chains have been severely disrupted globally, and the most vulnerable, especially women and girls, are being left behind. In July, on World Population Day, the UN Secretary General called for the protection of women and girls' health and rights amid the pandemic, including protecting contraceptive access. This week, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement in observance of World Contraception Day, emphasizing the importance of choice and access to family planning as being central in attaining the SDGs. This ought to be a global consensus and an established norm, but there is one world power that has not joined these efforts and is even acting against them: the United States.
In June, the Trump administration blocked U.S. funding for the UNFPA, the world's largest contraception provider, for the fourth year in a row. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced plans to expand the global gag rule, a harmful policy enacted by executive order at the beginning of Trump's presidency that prevents the U.S. from funding any foreign non-governmental organizations that provide abortion information, counseling, referrals, services, or advocacy. John Barsa, the acting administrator for USAID, asked in a formal letter to the UN Secretary General for all references to sexual and reproductive health to be removed from the UN's Global Humanitarian Response Plan.
These actions are part of the Trump administration's bid to restrict abortion access domestically and abroad, but they also have serious ramifications for contraceptive access. By withholding funding and interfering in global efforts to provide women and girls with access to sexual and reproductive health services, the U.S. is actively undermining LMICs' ability to achieve the SDGs and restricting access to contraception. This is senseless, even if the goal is to decrease abortion rates, because research shows that lack of access to modern contraception results in more unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
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