Technology and medicine have pushed the boundaries of innovation since the beginning of the 21st century, but women’s reproductive health remains one of the least publically discussed global health issues. Although the topic of contraception is controversial, it has become increasingly important that women’s reproductive health be prioritized, funded, and freely discussed in an age where world population is exponentially rising. Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States have funded programs like the Ouagadougou conference, allowing progressive reproductive health and family planning programs to be implemented worldwide. However, on January 23, 2017, within his first week of office, Donald Trump reinstated a highly controversial initiative dating back to President Reagan that threatens progress on women’s health both domestically and internationally. Despite the opposition from the Trump administration, the United States must continue to promote global awareness of female contraceptives to allow more women worldwide the opportunity to educate themselves and make decisions about their own bodies.
Over the past 20 years, progress has been made in areas of women’s health like pregnancy-related complications and contraceptive use, but global prioritization requires greater attention. In 2012, the United Nations Foundation created Family Planning 2020, a program designed to support the rights of women who are making their own decisions about the number of children they want to have. In the four years following the initiation of the program, it showed impressive progress in its pledge to improve availability of modern contraception by providing access for over 24 million women. However, on November 2nd, 2016, Family Planning 2020 issued a report confirming that it was “not on track to meet its target of providing 120 million additional women and girls access to contraception.” According to Jane Hobson, senior reproductive health aide at the UK’s Department for International Development, reaching these goals requires “prioritizing family planning, keeping it on the agenda, budgeting for it,…[and] shifting social expectations”. In order for these goals to be reached, there must be greater support and awareness of the benefits of using contraceptives, especially from the government and international funding bodies.
Contraception is a tool for women that gives them more freedom in their life choices. Education about birth control helps avoid unintended pregnancies, and allows women to maintain their jobs, therefore promoting self-sufficiency. Studies have shown that family planning education helps women make informed decisions about their reproductive health and promotes awareness of the risks associated with unsafe sex. Countries like Tunisia and Mauritius have seen fertility rates drop more than threefold after implementing policies that granted women equal rights to education and involvement in their communities. According to a survey performed by the Guttmacher Institute in 2011, a majority of women said that access to contraceptives allowed them to “take better care of…their families, support themselves financially, and get [and] keep a job”. Promoting contraceptive use throughout the world can provide benefits that extend through society.
The US is the leading example for promoting global safe family practices because of its involvement and funding in family planning education programs around the world. Over the last 50 years, USAID has funded and supported voluntary family planning and reproductive health programs in almost 40 countries around the world. In addition to supporting Family Planning 2020’s goal, USAID has made strides in family planning initiatives, supporting adolescent reproductive health and identifying at-risk locations. With this program, the United States has positioned itself as the world’s leading advocate for supporting reproductive health services. However, Donald Trump’s policies and a majority Republican Congress threaten to impede these initiatives and push back social progress.
Donald Trump’s misogynistic initiatives have led to actions threatening modern progress in female reproductive health. Throughout his campaign, Trump voiced strong opposition towards certain women’s issues, especially women’s health care, by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. While Trump acknowledged the benefits of Planned Parenthood’s services, such as breast and cervical-cancer screenings, he vowed to defund Planned Parenthood on the basis of his pro-life abortion policy. On January 23rd, during his first week in the Oval Office, President Trump reinstated “the global gag rule,” restricting US funds to international organizations that “perform or discuss abortions.”In the National Right to Life march that followed, Vice President Mike Pence promised supporters that the administration would push for a permanent ban of all organizations, like Planned Parenthood, involved in abortions. Women’s health clinics like Planned Parenthood not only provide greater accessibility to contraceptives, but they are a safe haven for women who need the resources and services associated with reproductive health. Yet, these clinics represent more than just their services; rather, they are a symbol of the right for women to choose to be educated and have access to birth control.
In the first weeks of the Trump administration, the US has already faced setbacks to the social progress of women’s health. The reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule not only prevents progress, but also will cause women’s clinic closures, leading to more unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement describing Trump’s actions as “dishonor[ing] American values of free speech and inflict[ing] untold suffering to millions of women around the world.” In 2015, the US provided 27 million women with access to contraceptives, preventing 2 million unsafe abortions and 6 million unintended pregnancies. Yet by pursuing initiatives focused on defunding programs like Planned Parenthood as well as family planning programs around the world, President Trump and the Republican Congress stifle discussion in an area desperately in need of reform and awareness, especially in countries like Tunisia and Mauritius where USAID family planning programs have benefited its society and economy. Over the past several years, countries like Tunisia and Mauritius have benefited economically from promoting social justice or women’s rights. In the next several months, the tone set by the new administration towards women’s health could alter the landscape of family planning around the world.