Family planning, contraception, and pregnancy

While reading this article, I came across a link to an incredible tool used to map access to basic family planning, sexual health, and reproductive health impacts. It shows the impacts of unplanned pregnancy (which account for roughly 50% of unplanned pregnancies in the USA each year), demonstrates the factors influencing this high number, shows the outcome of those pregnancies, the cost to public funding, and gives state-by-state suggestions for how to improve these numbers.

The Guttmacher Institute also has information on abortion, contraceptionpublic funding for contraception, teen pregnancy rates,  sexual health education, and so much more.

It’s definately worth checking out and is an incredible resource for anyone interested in learning about sexual health and family planning in the USA.

If anyone has information on similar databases for other countries please feel free to link them here.

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Contraception is a Human Right

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.

That is a quote from the researchers who are two years in to a five year study abortion – specifically the first scientific study which looks at what happens to women who have been denied abortions. This study has been following 956 women who sought abortions, 182 of which were denied. This study takes place in the USA but I believe much of the information can be extrapolated to other nations.

I find it fascinating that less than halfway into the study researchers are already able to debunk many of the common reasons why women are denied abortions and protestors push for pro-life national agendas. Firstly, abortion does not cause mental illness. Secondly, abortion does not cause drug use. Particularly when combined with the emotional distress of carrying an unwanted child to term. In fact, the study found that giving birth to an unwanted child caused more physical damage than an abortion: “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.”

What I also found interesting was that only 11% of those who were denied abortions put the child up for adoption and that there are higher rates of putting children up for adoption among those with a history of drug abuse. While there are plenty of people who desperately want to adopt children, particularly from within their home country, adoption is still looked down upon. Many people are discriminated against if they put their child up for adoption, there is a stigma associated with this that makes many people choose to keep the child.

Also notable is that this week the United Nations declared contraception to be a human right. About time, right? Family Planning is universally acknowledged to be critical for development; spacing children apart by a minimum of 2 years improves their health, developmental capacity, brain function, in-utero nutrition, and improves the health of the mother and ease of her delivery. Additionally, 82% of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided simply by increasing access to information and services regarding contraception. Who needs access? Women and adolescents as

Thai Minority Women in Dien Bien, Vietnam discussing the importance of family planning and maternal health (November 8-9, 2012)

those are the target groups and the people who need to be able to have control and power over decisions regarding their own bodies. This is a huge step forward for international development and a wake-up call for so called ‘developed’ nations to improve the dissemination of information and services regarding contraception. It also should indicate a need to not discriminate against such services on the basis of religion, funding, or personal beliefs.

Take a step forward with the United Nations and protect the rights and freedoms of people around the world by supporting family planning, improving access to contraception information and services, reducing the stigma surrounding adoption and abortion, and ensuring that women people are never denied the ability to live out their basic rights.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Alright, by this point you should all know my stance on gender equality, women’s rights, human rights, etc. I’d say I’ve been pretty vocal. I have also been fairly polite about it (according to others).

This is going to change. I’m livid.

Women’s rights are human rights. Women do not spontaneously become pregnant, it’s really not a solo act. A man’s presence is involved in some way or another.

Do you believe in human rights? Do you believe that women are capable? Do you respect your mother, sisters, female friends? Do you enjoy making decisions about your life (i.e. what will I have for breakfast, do I want to read a book, should I wear a red shirt today, etc.)? Do you doubt the intelligence of the women you know?

If you say you respect women and if you understand what respect actually means, how can you promote actions or people who subsequently disrespect their autonomy, independence, decision-making abilities, and equality?

How is it that women are responsible for making sure they don’t get raped (don’t go out at dark, oh that skirt is too short, are you sure you should show that much cleavage) because ‘men can’t help themselves if you look available’ and yet our ability to make decisions about our bodies is threatened? Why is that we are held with the responsibility to make sure ‘men don’t stray or misbehave’ yet we are not responsible to make any decisions about ourselves? Why is it that regardless of how smart I am, how much I prove myself, how well I distinguish myself in my field I will still make 70-80 cents on the dollar in comparison to my male counterparts?

Why is this still so hard to wrap your mind around? Its been a matter of discussion for decades, centuries even. Why is it so hard to understand? Women are human, in fact ALL people are human. All people deserve equal rights under the law. Women and men have slightly different body parts, that does not mean they deserve unequal rights. Birth control is a human right – you sell condoms (mainly male condoms as female condoms are not common practice) over the counter, allowing men to control what goes on their penis, yet birth control pills/IUDs/NuvaRing/injections/implants/patch/etc. (the more effective forms of birth control) are still prescription only and significantly more expensive (and in the USA 18 states allow pharmacists permission to refuse to dispense medication that they don’t morally agree with). This removes control, independence, autonomy, it makes it incredibly difficult for women to have the same freedom of control over their fertility that men have. *Note, I’m not saying condoms (male/female condoms) are not effective, they are still the only way to protect yourself and your partner against STDs, they are just less effective (when used alone) at preventing pregnancies than other hormonal forms of birth control. When in doubt ask your doctor or google the success rates of different forms, and always be sure to get tested. 

Also, why is abortion a heated discussion in politics, aren’t we supposed to have separation of state and religion? Isn’t it religion that dictates that life begins at conception? Why does this have a place in politics? Nations are not assimilated cultures, nations are made up of inherently different people with different beliefs and different religions, even if there is no separation of state and religion there should be equal place for ALL religions to share their views instead of only the view of the loudest religion. In saying this, religion probably isn’t even the best word – how about beliefs? This allows for those without a ‘formalized institutional view of religion’ to be included. I don’t go to church (at this present time), does that make my views on politics any more or less valid? Nope.

If you are going to represent me in politics, I do not want to know about your religious beliefs, I don’t care what (if any) god you believe in. I don’t care if you grew up going to church, or mosque, or temple, or something else, or nothing. It shouldn’t matter. What matters to me are your political beliefs and how well you will represent me and my political beliefs, if you cannot justify your stance without using religion, you have no place in politics. Saying things like ‘if a women gets pregnant from rape, god intended it to happen’ should never come out of your mouth. Maybe a better thing to say would be “if a women gets pregnant from rape, the state will do everything in their power to support her in whatever decision she makes and to give her access to the things she needs to heal emotionally and physically from such a horrible trauma. We will also do everything in our power to ensure that the rapist is brought to court and tried for these crimes.” You are in politics, you do not judge, you do not demean people, and you do not treat anyone as less than human. You support the population you represent, you support equal rights, and you do what is in the best interests for everyone even if it goes outside of your religious beliefs (which you do not try to enforce on others).

I have never been in a situation where I have had to make a decision regarding abortion and I sincerely hope I’m never in a place where I have to. I hope that if and when I get pregnant (if ever), it’s by choice. I hope that until (and if ever) that happens/during that time/after that time, I’m granted  the right and ability to maintain 100% of my own authority over my body. This means never being in a position where sexual activity occurs without my express prior consent and if it were to ever occur without my consent, having the freedom and ability to pursue legal action in court without being judged, demeaned, or having my actions put on trial. This means having 100% access to whatever means of family planning I choose to use and having it covered by my health insurance (just like viagra is covered) without having to justify my actions/choices or having them refused. This means being able to access abortions without being judged or forced to justify my decision and having access to supportive counselling throughout the process if I’m ever in a position where I choose to have an abortion. This means being treated like a human being.

I can respect your decision if you are not a feminist, and if you are pro-life, believe religion has a place in politics, etc. I can respect that. I cannot respect when those beliefs infringe on the rights of the rest of the population. In saying I’m pro-choice, believe in access to contraception, believe in equal pay; I am not infringing on your right to never have an abortion, never use contraception or get paid less if thats what you want. If you are against family planning – great don’t do it. But don’t tell me I can’t.

I am human, nothing more, nothing less. 

How important is contraception?

Very.

Today marked World Population Day and the focus was family planning! There was a conference in the UK today discussing the importance and benefits of family planning (aka reproductive health, contraception, information, and access). At this conference, they pledged 3.6 billion dollars a year towards family planning that could drastically improve the state of maternal and women’s health.

Vagina

Vagina.

Linking to the above post from my classmate and friend Kyla at A Day in the Life. I felt as though my best response is a quote from Eve Ensler, activist, playwright, and creator of The Vagina Monologues;  “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men‘s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”

I believe that the fear and stigma associated with using words like vagina come from a deep rooted belief that if people talk about it, they run the risk of losing their honour and self-worth, which is in itself a dangerous concept. But I also feel it important to note that the same people who are waging this war against vaginas are also those who are ‘against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo.’

If we move past the fear and stigma associated with simply using a word then there wouldn’t be a need for invasive and demeaning discussions on the rights that a woman has over her own body: she would simply have rights.

For more information, I recommend checking out Vagina is not a dirty word.

Millennium Development Goals (again)

 Water

There are news articles everywhere saying we’ve met the MDG target for access to clean, drinkable water and technically we have. We have halved the percent of population without access to clean water, with 2 billion additional people having access. But are we done yet?

While it is incredible that 89% of the population has access to clean, drinkable water (comparable to 76% in 1990), that means that 11% of the population is still forced to drink unsafe, unclean water every single day, 40% of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa. So are we done yet? Absolutely not, but at least progress is being made.

On another note, lets take a peak at the goal for maternal mortality.

Under this goal the UN is hoping to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and ensure universal access to reproductive health. Now it is often said that these two indicators are often the best clue into the status of women’s rights and gender equality in a particular country. Some progress has been made, but this goal has seen the least progress and in many cases the least effort.

While nations around the world are making significant efforts to improve women’s rights, access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion), increasing access to trained professionals prior to, during, and after birth, and increasing education and knowledge in general, we have countries closer to home where access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion) is still considered fair game for public debate.

From 1998-2010 the USA actually regressed in terms of their maternal mortality rate showing an increase of twenty-five percent in a twelve-year period. Its appalling that such a thing can happen in a nation with health care readily available, and it demonstrates that gender equality and women’s health was not at the forefront of the nation’s agenda.

In Canada, we have the pesky little issue of abortion. Abortion is legal (huge win for women’s rights), but not available throughout the entire nation where some provinces and regions do not have the tools or facilities to perform abortions forcing Canadians to travel huge distances to seek out medical care. This drastically increases the cost, and decreases the availability of such reproductive health to girls and women who may not be able to travel and/or live in rural regions. Even more appalling is that we still have elected officials who are trying to make abortion illegal-may I add that I have yet to ever hear or see a female MP in Canada try to overturn our current abortion law? An MP from Kitchener has been trying to bring the abortion debate back into parliament since Christmas of 2011.

Does that mean that women’s rights are regressing? Maybe, but with absolute certainty it means that every nations must make a firm commitment to improve women’s rights, health, and access.

To check out international progress on the MDG’s go here.