Canada to shun family planning

Canada to shun family planning

Maternal and child health initiative
By Katey Zeh

Women’s access to family planning has been the center of a recent controversy surrounding Canada’s G8 health initiative to improve maternal and child health.

Canada’s Health Minister Lawrence Cannon said in February that the initiative would contain no provision for family planning. When asked about the exclusion of these services, he responded, “The purpose of [this initiative] is to save lives.”

Any effective maternal-health initiative must include access to voluntary contraception.

Advocates for women’s health, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, responded that any effective maternal-health initiative must include access to voluntary contraception.

Cannon’s comments illustrate a misconception about contraception: That it is not critical for women and children’s survival. This is simply not true.

In the developing world, more than 200 million women of childbearing age would like to delay or avoid pregnancy, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), but they lack access to modern family planning. Each year as a result more than 80 million unintended pregnancies occur, UNFPA estimates.

More than 536,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. A UNFPA report, “No Women Should Die Giving Life,” estimates that if all unmet needs for family planning around the world were met, maternal mortality would drop by a third. Five hundred thousand fewer children would be left motherless: 500,000!

Very little progress has been made, though, in reducing maternal mortality.

Reducing maternal mortality by 75% is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, a blueprint agreed to by the world’s countries and leading development institutions to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. Very little progress has been made, though, in reducing maternal mortality. Rates of maternal deaths have decreased by only 6% since 1990, less than 1% per year. With such slow progress, little if any confidence can exist that maternal health is improving in any significant way.

The absence of family planning in Canada’s G8 initiative and Cannon’s comments are alarming. They reinforce the pervasive disconnect between investing in family planning and saving lives. It is no coincidence that the World Health Organization reports that 99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world where women lack access to basic health services, including voluntary contraception.

Investing in family planning is a cost-effective measure that can prevent life-threatening pregnancies. It empowers women and men to make healthy decisions about the timing and spacing of their children.

Healthy Families, Healthy Planet logoEditor’s note: Katey Zeh is a consultant with the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS). She is coordinating the “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” initiative funded by the United Nations Foundation. Through education and advocacy, the goal of the initiative is to raise awareness among United Methodists about the importance of international family planning and reproductive health. “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” involves a partnership among GBCS, General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee and Operation Healing Hope, a GBCS initiative on maternal health.

For more information, contact Katey Zeh ( via e-mail or call (704) 604-6770.

For more about information in this article, go to the following resources:

  • "Birth control won't be in G8 plan to protect mothers, Tories say," (Globe and Mail)
  • " Maternal health includes family planning, access to abortion: Clinton," (National Post)
  • "Reproductive Health: Ensuring that Every Pregnancy is Wanted”
  • “No Woman Should Die Giving Life”
  • Millennium Development Goals
  • “Maternal mortality ratio falling too slowly to meet goal” (World Health Organization)
  • Maternal mortality (World Health Organization)
  • Date: 4/7/2010

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