Global “Unmet Need” for Family Planning More Myth than Science: New Article

By | January 5, 2017
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Dr. Rebecca Oas is Associate Director of Research at C-Fam

WASHINGTON, DC, January 6 (C-Fam) The claim that 200 million of the world’s women and girls want contraception but can’t get it is false, but it is still used to funnel billions of dollars to the international family planning and abortion industry each year.

A just-released article in the New Atlantis debunks the notion of a vast global “unmet need” for contraception, especially in less developed countries, and explains how the global family planning “crisis” was based on false assumptions and misleading measurements better suited to advocacy than serious analysis.

With the aim of translating easily misunderstood policy jargon into plain speech, Dr. Rebecca Oas demonstrates how survey data from developing countries has been selectively interpreted in order to promote contraception due to concerns about overpopulation. Current surveys are conducted by the U.S. government in conjunction with UN agencies and other international organizations. Oas is Associate Director of Research at C-Fam, publisher of the Friday Fax.

In 2012, the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) claimed that more than 200 million women have an “unmet need” for family planning. The oft-repeated figure is often misrepresented as lack of access to contraceptives. Based on the unsupported assumption that all women with an “unmet need” desire to use contraception, the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund have called on the international community to invest $9.4 billion annually to meet “all women’s needs for modern contraception services.”

But even population experts have said the measurement of “unmet need” does not take into account women’s ambivalence regarding their desired fertility, Oas found. The term also ignores the fact that less than a tenth of all “unmet need” is attributed to lack of access or cost of services.

An additional problem is that several agencies and organizations are moving toward defining this “unmet need” more specifically according to what they define as “modern” contraceptive methods. While different agencies define “modern” differently, many do not include natural family planning methods which rely on fertility awareness and, in many cases, periodic abstinence during the woman’s fertile days.

Thus, women who are happily and successfully using natural methods may also be described as having an “unmet need” of contraception.

By equating the desire to avoid pregnancy with a demand for “modern” contraceptives, Dr. Oas points out, family planning advocates are disregarding women’s right, protected by international law, to set their own priorities with regard to family size and the use, or not, of specific medical interventions. Moreover, the use of many heavily-marketed contraceptives, particularly Depo Provera, carry serious and well-documented health risks that many women wish to avoid, and have a right not to accept.

As this article suggests, the real “unmet need” within family planning policies are for better measurements and greater respect for women’s fundamental rights, and freedoms.

Oas also warns readers about the incremental disappearance of maternal health language – and investments – from the agenda currently promoted at the UN.

She even reports on the macabre way in which some family planning groups are linking progress in maternal health to the increased use of contraceptives. In sum, since some women die while giving birth, together with their newborns, all these lives would theoretically be “saved” with contraceptives – “by averting their very existence in the first place.”