Even as I write this, there are 225 million women in the world who do not want to get pregnant but do not have access to modern contraceptives. A recent change to U.S. global health policy will soon drive that number up even higher. And as we continue to debate this issue, I think it’s important that all of us understand its stakes from the perspective of the women whose families and futures hang in the balance.
For many of these women, the ability to plan their pregnancies is nothing less than a matter of life and death. Last year alone, family planning tools helped avert the deaths of 124,000 women. Healthier women have healthier children, so the impact of contraceptives ripples across generations. When women space the births of their children by at least three years, their babies are twice as likely to survive their first year of life—and 35% more likely to live to see their fifth birthday.
What’s more, contraceptives are often a key determining factor in whether a woman is able to lift her family out of poverty. Research shows that women with access to family planning tools not only tend to have fewer children, they also tend to have higher individual and household incomes. Their kids spend more time in school, increasing the economic potential of the next generation, too.
The stories behind these statistics are powerful and personal. A few years ago, I met a woman in Kenya who had just started a small business sewing backpacks out of denim scraps. She hoped this new income would help her give her three kids a better life, but she was very aware that her ability to keep the business at all depended on her ability to delay her next pregnancy.
A woman I met in India last spring told me a similar story. She was planning to go back to work as soon as her youngest daughter was old enough to start school. And while she was excited about what the extra income would mean for her family, she was also excited simply because she loved her job as a teacher. Contraceptives not only empowered her economically—they empowered her to be who she wanted to be in the world.