Attacks on Women’s Reproductive Health Facilities, Advances in Women’s Reproductive Health

By Karen Sommer Shalett

Over the next two weeks Impact will post the top 12 global health moments of 2015 with commentary from experts. We want to hear your thoughts, too. So login and comment, share on social media and reflect on what has been a pretty interesting year for global health.

While Planned Parenthood has often been made to defend itself against criticism to Congress and the anti-abortion faction in the United States, 2015 was a particularly difficult year for women’s health services. Following the July release of falsified videos by the right-wing-sponsored Center for Medical Progress that purported to show Planned Parenthood staff selling fetal tissue, the organization faced attacks on its funding at the national and statewide level, as well as violent assaults on clinics all over the United States.

By the end of July, the release of the full-length video and transcripts of the footage proved that Planned Parenthood acted appropriately and a plan to defund Planned Parenthood nationally had failed in the US Senate. But the heightened rhetoric continued to put the reproductive health at risk. On November 28, a Colorado Springs clinic was terrorized by a man who shot and killed three and wounded nine in a murderous rampage.

The debate surrounding Planned Parenthood continued to focus on the fact that it provides women in the US with one of the few outlets for safe abortion, despite the practice being legal and no federal funding paying for the procedure. However, its additional important sexual and reproductive health services, including offering access to contraception, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and cervical cancer screening, among others, are contributing to a worldwide movement to reduce maternal mortality and unintended pregnancies, and save women’s lives.

Operating with the knowledge that increased access to modern contraception can ensure women’s health and safety, the work of the global partnership FP2020 increased the number of women using modern contraception by an additional 24.4 million from 2012 to 2015. But with a goal set to get that number to an additional 120 million by the year 2020, the effort is behind by 10 million as it edges closer to its 2016 halfway point. As a result, the global health community issued calls to accelerate the work to increase the voluntary uptake of modern contraception increase funding and scale up successful interventions. Among those increasing their pledges was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In November, Melinda Gates announced the foundation would add an additional $120 million over three years to the effort.

“With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the new Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescent’s Health and expanded financing mechanisms, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to chart the course for the world we want,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and Co-Chair of FP2020’s Reference Group. “When millions more women have access to the modern contraceptives they need to choose whether, when and how many children to have, we will all be closer to achieving our common goals.”

“When millions more women have access to the modern contraceptives they need to choose whether, when and how many children to have, we will all be closer to achieving our common goals.”

Reports of just one example of an overwhelmingly successful US-based intervention broke in 2015. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment offered teenagers and poor women the opportunity to choose free long-acting, reversible contraceptives, including intrauterine devices and implants. From 2009-2013, the birth rate among teenagers fell by 40%, while the rate of abortions fell by 42%. Overall, there was a decrease of unintended pregnancies and abortions by 48%, with a cost savings of $80 million of Medicaid funding.

In November 2015, a recent Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 survey found that Kenya was able to increase its use of long-acting and permanent methods of family planning, particularly implants, from 5.5% in 2008 to 14.8% in 2015. Including reproductive health as a constitutional right, as well as national health care insurance, contributed to the gains.

2015  proved that when concentrated resources are applied to increasing access to modern contraception, the rate of unintended pregnancy can be significantly decreased, thereby securing the future for women, their families, their communities and countries.

For more information on how PSI works to secure sexual and reproductive for women in the developing world, click here.

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