Contraception - A Basic Human Right
Outside the San Diego convention center, a group of ‘protesters’ continually harangued attendees at the recent ACOG Annual Meeting as they crossed the street to return to their hotels. The protesters carried large placards, displaying the body parts of babies, and chastised the attendees about the Society’s position, generally (not all members concur), supporting a woman’s “right to choose.” One of the protesters, a woman, grabbed my arm, read my name tag and said, “Ken, don’t you care about the babies?” A surge of intense anger came over me. I looked her squarely in the eye and told her that “I have spent the last 28 years of my life caring about women and their babies and if we had a government that didn’t treat women as second class citizens, a government that supported providing adequate education regarding human sexuality, reproduction and responsibility at an early age and through the school years, and a government that made it possible for men and women to have ready access to contraception, there would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and unwanted babies and abortion would become a thing of the past. You are wasting your time here. Take that message and your signs to the White House.”
The sobering fact remains, that in a country with the most advanced technology in the world, the resources that could provide adequate education, nutrition and health care to every citizen (if we so chose), 50% of all pregnancies are unintended; teen pregnancy rates have taken a turn upward. As the result, the projected population increase in the U.S. between 2000 and 2050 is in the range of 32%, on par with rates in Asia and Latin America! In real terms, this translates to a population of about 400,000,000 within the next 40-50 years. In contrast, developed nations in Europe are projecting a 10% decline in population over the same time frame.
Our world has limited resources, and no country can sustain a high rate of population increase for long without suffering a deleterious impact on its ‘standard of living.’ I do not understand how or why our leaders choose to ignore that basic fact. In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development recognized reproductive control as a “basic human right” and a necessary first step to alleviating poverty and raising worldwide educational levels and health status. In 2004, the World Health Organization reaffirmed this position and further concluded that those rights include:
- Access to the highest standard of health care
- Individual control of sexuality
- Personal choice of spouse
- Access to all relevant health information
- Freedom to choose the number, spacing, and timing of children
Yet, the U.S. is the only member of the United Nations that to this day refuses to embrace this theme.
More disturbing to many of us, our country seems to take as many steps backward as it does forward with regard to contraception and human sexuality. To illustrate this point, during a news conference on these issues at the annual meeting, Dr. Vivian Dickerson, past president of ACOG, mentioned the March 2007, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that employee health plans do not have to include contraceptive coverage for their employees. The short-sightedness of this ruling cannot be overemphasized in view of the fact that such coverage would be a “negligible cost to employers” considering the “$19 billion annual expenses directly related to unintended pregnancy.”
Dr. Kathryn Moore, ACOG Director of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, also pointed to the inequities of health care coverage and the second class status of women. She related that “22 states do not require insurers to cover contraception; however, these same insurers voluntarily cover drugs like Viagra,” suggesting “that male sexual dysfunction is a more pressing public health concern than unintended or unwanted pregnancy.” By the way, a month’s supply of Viagra probably costs 5-10 times what it does for a pack of oral contraceptives. So tell me, why does religious and moral opposition to contraception only apply to women…????