Maternal Mortality Rates Could Tank If We Meet Contraception Needs in Developing Countries

Supplying women in developing countries with contraception they want and need could reduce global maternity mortality by nearly a third, according to a new Johns Hopkins University study published at just the right time — a few weeks before an upcoming family planning conference in London care of the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that hopes to put the issue of unmet contraceptive need back in the international spotlight. (The study was financed by the foundation.)

"Somewhere along the way we got confused by our own conversation and we stopped trying to save these lives," Melinda Gates has said about the ridiculously infuriating way our country's politicians clutch their pearls over birth control. "We're not talking about abortion. We're not talking about population control. What I'm talking about is giving women the power to save their lives."

Let's push aside anti-choice and pro-abstinence rhetoric for a moment and talk facts: about 16 percent of the world's population lives in countries where fertility doesn't mean "the best and most beautiful gift of life you'll ever experience" but more than four children per women. The population is expected to more than triple in those countries during this century. That's bad news for the economy and the environment, but also for the women in question, who — crazy as it apparently seems to some — would like some birth control, please.

"We hear time and again from women out in the field that they want the ability to plan their families," Gary Darmstadt, director of family health at the Gates Foundation, told the New York Times. "We felt we needed to shine a light back onto the importance of this issue and get the conversation going."

More facts: researchers found that the number of maternal deaths in those countries would have nearly doubled without contraception, and that 29 percent of deaths could've been prevented if only women who wanted birth control had the access to it, since birth control helps delay first pregnancies (which have high risks for the youngest women), reduces the need for unsafe abortions, and allows women to space out their pregnancies.

Only 6 percent of international population assistance funds went to family planning in 2008, down from 55 percent in 1995. (For comparison, spending on H.I.V./AIDS represented 74 percent of the funds, up from 9 percent in 1995.) About $4 billion — which would go towards family planning services for 120 million women from the world's poorest countries — is expected to be pledged at the upcoming conference. We dare someone to put a negative "pro-life" spin on that.

Study Says Meeting Contraception Needs Could Cut Maternal Deaths by a Third [NYT]