In January 2017, President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy—a rule that prohibits foreign organizations that provide, discuss or advocate for women’s access to abortion from receiving US global health funding. Just three months later, the Trump Administration announced it will cut all funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and has zeroed out the budget for global family planning assistance in fiscal year 2018.
It’s no secret that family planning programs are some of the smartest investments we can make in global health—so it is a major setback that US policymakers are trying to end them.
When women have access to modern contraception, they have greater control over their lives and futures. This reproductive freedom gives women greater opportunity to pursue their education, have a career, contribute to the economy or care for the children they already have. Additionally, a woman who has accurate knowledge of family planning methods—from condoms to long-acting implants to permanent methods—can spread that information, making it easier for entire communities to access life-saving services simply by word of mouth.
Beyond the individual benefits, helping women plan their families can pay dividends by reducing the costs and risks that occur when a woman becomes pregnant.
At Marie Stopes International (MSI), we estimate that every $1.50 of donor money spent by our programs, over $10 is saved by health systems in developing countries. That is a staggering rate of return on investment.
Investing—and not investing—in solutions to increase contraceptive access can have important consequences for whole societies, as well as the women and girls whose lives depend on access to family planning.
Perhaps nobody knows that better than Mary Magdalene Koroma, a Marie Stopes Sierra Leone client who received her contraceptive implant when she was 16. Mary lives on a remote island off the coast of Sierra Leone, where the nearest hospital is 105 nautical miles away. Thanks to a Marie Stopes speedboat outreach team, she didn’t have to leave her community to receive the contraceptive implant that has allowed her to continue her education.
Mary’s story demonstrates the paramount importance of investing in contraceptives and innovative ways to deliver them. Unfortunately, it also provides an example of what happens when investments in these programs stop.
In December 2016, the Marie Stopes speedboat service that provided Mary and her community with services closed because of major funding cuts to family planning programs in Sierra Leone. This closure was the foreboding first of many likely to happen over the next few years across the globe as family planning programs are faced with a loss of financial support from the United States.
Without the Marie Stopes outreach team, Mary’s remote island community will have few other ways to access reproductive care—or any healthcare at all. Meaningful relationships between healthcare workers and the community will be dismantled and, without their presence, myths and misconceptions about contraception are likely to flourish.
A Marie Stopes Sierra Leone speedboat heads toward the remote district of Bonthe, Sierra Leone
Without the United States’ continued investment and leadership, global reproductive health will also suffer major setbacks. In the 37 countries where we deliver services, we remain committed to our clients, and our belief in individual choice is important now more than ever.
Progress requires investment. For the 214 million women who still have an unmet need for contraception, now is not the time to turn back the clock. We must make smart, consistent investments in family planning so that women and girls can reap the benefits and take charge of their futures.