For the first time, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) explicitly described family planning as a “universal human right.” In its annual report, the organization said that improved access to contraception and other methods of family planning could greatly improve the lives of women around the world:
“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the fund, said in a written statement. “Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”
The report effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.
Although the report is non-binding and does not itself affect international law, the UNFPA noted that spending an additional $4.1 billion on family planning funding could save $11.3 billion each year on health care for new mothers and infants in poor countries. During his failed campaign for president, Mitt Romney promised to pull U.S. funding U.N. Population Fund, and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) introduced a bill in 2011 to prevent the U.S. from funding the global body.
Since August, employer-provided insurance plans in the U.S. have been required to include contraception coverage at no additional cost. Despite an accommodation for religious organizations, several far-right conservative and religious groups have been fighting against the Obamacare contraception provision because they say it infringes on their religious liberty. But several studies in addition to the UN’s report have documented the positive benefits of providing women with affordable access to contraceptive services.