With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility: Lancet Series on Sexual and Reproductive Health

According to a new series in Lancet, a well-respected, peer-reviewed, medical journal:

"Every year, 340 million new patients acquire gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, or trichomonas, more than 120 million couples have an unmet need for contraception, 80 million women have unintended pregnancies, and an estimated 19 million women undergo unsafe abortions; 70,000 of them die as a result."

There are cheap and effective ways to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, provide safe abortions, assist healthy pregnancies and delivery, and support children and families. With advances in medicine, access to health and education, why do these critical issues still threaten women's health? Politics. Clear and simple. Conservative ideology endangers women's health.

Yesterday, Lancet launched the new series on sexual and reproductive health worldwide. This study is based on the first ever global research of this kind – real data from researchers who took a fact-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and practices around the world. Lancet Editor Richard Horton explains why they focus on sexual and reproductive health:

"Mainly because it's an issue of incredible intrinsic importance to the lives of women in the world today… but also, and this is particularly neglected I think, it's a critical foundation for many of the other issues that are supposedly top of the international health agenda."

Sexual and reproductive health influences a wide-range of issues including social, economic, and environmental development. (Listen to Horton's introduction and some of the main authors' key findings.) This series draws on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), declaring that sexual and reproductive health was left out of, but essential for the attainment of, the Millennium Development Goals. Unfortunately, social conservatives' increasing influence has challenged the progress made since the ICPD.

Despite the evidence against them, social conservatives cling to ideology over science and are determined to mold everyone around the world – from single Americans in their 20s to married women in Kenya – to their narrow beliefs. Conservative ideologues would rather prohibit abortion (and contraception) and deny funding to family planning services than acknowledge effective preventative services and safe medical procedures. They don't trust women to make the "right" decision, when in reality women make the decision that is right for their situation. In placing religious, political or cultural beliefs ahead of real evidence-based information, conservatives create the barriers which lead to sexually transmitted infections, unsafe abortions, child poverty and sexual and reproductive ill-health. We all have a responsibility to advance sexual and reproductive health and move beyond the taboo on this subject.

RH Reality Check welcomes the new Lancet series. Our staff and guest bloggers will continue to expose social conservatives propagating ideology at the expense of peer-reviewed scientific evidence on reproductive health.

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