July 11th is World Population Day – arguably the most important made-up holiday we’ve had in years. Why do I say that? Because it’s the final World Population Day before the 2012 elections, and the choices Americans make in the voting booth will have lasting consequences for people and the planet.
We have two options: We can make family planning a priority and invest the money needed to give women control of their own lives and futures. Or we can allow our nation – and our world – to slide backward.
I did not expect that we’d be in this position today. In my 16 years with Population Connection, I’ve never seen anything like the attacks on contraception we’ve witnessed in the past year. Silly me: I thought the fight over contraception was resolved back in the 1960s. What I hadn’t counted on was the growing political power of people determined to turn the clock back to the ’50s – preferably the 1850s or 1750s.
The examples are numerous and egregious:
- The U.S. House votes to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and for Title X family planning programs (created by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970.)
- The House convenes an all-male panel to decry the Obama Administration’s rule requiring insurance policies to cover contraception.
- Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke is publicly attacked as a “slut” and a “prostitute” after testifying in favor of the Obama Administration’s rule.
- A House committee votes to end funding for the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, a development program that offers reproductive health care and voluntary family planning services to 500 million women around the world each year.
- At the recent Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the Vatican succeeds in removing references to gender equality and reproductive rights from the final document.
We can expect some of the same right-wing reaction over the London Summit on Family Planning, which begins today.
These actions affect women’s lives and livelihoods – and the health of our world. Adding 80 million people a year to the Earth’s population puts incredible strain on our natural resources. Experts project that in less than 50 years, we might add another 2 billion to 4 billion people to our planet. All of those people need food, water, clean air and space – necessities that are already running in short supply in many areas.
So what can we do about it? First of all, demand that your representatives support policies that ensure women around the world have the power to choose the trajectory of their own lives. About 222 million women around the globe want to delay or end their childbearing but have no access to modern contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Universal access to contraception would slow population growth, give women and girls more power over their own futures and help communities and nations build a better quality of life for all of their people.
Advocate, advocate, advocate. Ask everyone running for Congress to support the Global Democracy Promotion Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nita Lowey. This legislation would create a permanent repeal of the odious Global Gag Rule that hurts the world’s most vulnerable women every time it’s reinstated. Let them know how important it is to provide aid to UNFPA and to ensure universal access to contraceptives. Demand comprehensive sex education and the elimination of “refusal clauses” that allow pharmacists and other health professionals to deny treatment.
The United States also must increase funding for voluntary family planning programs. An investment of $1 billion represents our nation’s fair share of the total cost of meeting unmet need for family planning worldwide. It’s a sound investment in our shared future that will save the lives of women and improve everyone’s quality of life.
If you agree, join us and other organizations that work on behalf of these issues. And don’t give up. If we want to achieve women’s rights, a stable population and a healthier planet, we must keep fighting not just on World Population Day, but every day, every week, every year.