2012 Global Family Planning Summit: Exciting But Incomplete

On July 11 (World Population Day) world leaders will gather in London at the global summit hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the government of the United Kingdom to discuss funding, delivery and monitoring of family planning services that will benefit 120 million women around the world.

ASAP’s twitter is abuzz with facts, hopes and concerns about the summit. Here are a few that stand out.

1. The Marie Stopes Foundation tweeted a vital fact: 222 million women want to avoid pregnancy but can’t access modern contraception.

2. IPPF Global shared this site with powerful pro-contraception testimonies with a note to Melinda Gates, ‘When will all women be able to say “I was confident in my future because I could plan my family @melindagates’

3. The Guttmacher Institute has tweeted one of its publications with a fact that warrants urgent action: In ’12 there will be 104,000 deaths among pregnant women who hadn’t wanted to become pregnant.

4. The UN population fund retweeted Universal Access Project fact, “Did you know that a woman dies every minute from pregnancy complications. It’s time to take action.”

5. Engender Health says, “New Report Spots number 1 killer of teenage girls worldwide. Do you know what it is?” with a link to an article on teenage pregnancy.

There’s a lot of excitement about the summit, and it is quite contagious. It is definitely heartening to think that in ten days the world might actually make a move that empowers several women around the world (particularly in developing countries) by increasing their access to contraception.

But sadly, the summit does not plan to directly address the need to simultaneously improve access to safe abortions. As Joan Smith wrote for the Independent, “It is an astonishing omission.”

WHO reports show that at least 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year. Several cases go unreported as well, and so WHO estimates that the actual number might be as high as 68,000. Several millions also suffer complications of backstreet abortions.

Unfortunately, the agenda for the summit is heavily dictated by the personal beliefs of the organizers. Melinda Gates, who was raised catholic, took a huge step forward when she recognized the need to improve access to contraception. However she revealed this April that she is not planning to discuss abortions.

But as the Independent says, “… it’s hard to see why a private citizen should be able to dictate government policy. Ministers will let down women in developing countries if they exclude it from the summit agenda of the landmark London summit.”

We wholeheartedly agree. There is an urgent need to recognize the need for family planning. But no summit on the subject is complete without a comprehensive discussion on the value of safe abortions.

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