Why Confusion About Family Planning Terminology Could Be Costing Us Billions

By | June 15, 2019

At international institutions, there is always a politically sensitive, if not controversial, nature to discussions of sex, reproduction, and the family. Even so, since 1968, some nations have framed such matters as rights by promoting the idea of a “human right” to family planning. Since then, and most recently in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, nations have accepted political commitments to guarantee their people “access” to family planning. What is most important for this examination is that, despite these commitments, there has been little clarity on what that specifically means. As a result, perverse incentives for using commodities to control pregnancy and childbirth can lead to real harm. This is largely due to the political enthusiasm, national power, and international funding for family planning, which has far exceeded the actual demand for it by women and couples on the ground.

The implications of this manufactured confusion go beyond academic discourse. The Sustainable Development Goals carry a massive price tag of $5-7 trillion dollars a year over fifteen years. There are many entities competing for their piece of that pie, and family planning groups are working hard to ensure their issue remains prominent. They have made the case that family planning is the key to achieving the SDGs because of the ripple effects that demographic shifts can have across multiple issue areas.