2012: A Good Year for Reproductive Rights

Dec 31st, 2012 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org

The end of a year normally leads to reflections on how the preceding 365 days turned out on many different issues.  As  2012 comes to a close, there are reasons to feel confident about how family planning and reproductive rights fared this year.

There were three major events that should be noted and celebrated.  The first is that, after over a decade, the Philippines finally passed a reproductive health bill, despite the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church.  The law allows the government to provide for sexual education and contraceptives.

In the Philippines, a country of 96 million people, 3.4 million pregnancies are unintended.  In Manila, which has had one of the world’s most restrictive laws on birth control, only the middle and upper classes can acquire birth control at private clinics.  The poor, who are left to rely on public clinics, are unable to get contraceptives, due to a city-wide government ban.  According to the United Nations Population Fund, only 21 percent of women in the Philippines use any form of modern contraception and nearly 70 percent use no contraception at all.

Fighting to pass the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill

All over the world, there is a huge unmet need for family planning services.  Globally, 222 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern contraceptive.

To address this unmet need, this past July  the Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development sponsored the London Summit on Family Planning, a major gathering of health advocates, foundations, politicians and others who support family planning.

Donors pledged to provide $2.6 billion over the next eight years to help 120 million of the poorest women in the world gain access to contraceptives.  This accurately has been called a “breakthrough for the world’s poorest women and girls,” with more than 20 developing countries making commitments to increase spending on family planning.

Here in the United States, there are certainly good reasons to feel positive about the state of women’s rights and reproductive rights.  Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), birth control is now covered without a deductible (though it has been called free birth control, it is only for those with health insurance).   This can greatly help reduce our high rates of unintended pregnancies and teen pregnancies since the most reliable forms of birth control, the I.U.D. and implants, come with a high up-front cost of up to $800.

The political Right opposed this throughout the year.   Some of the staunchest critics of birth control and women’s rights spoke out during the campaign season.  A few of them made such outrageous and negative statements (most famously Rep. Todd “legitimate rape” Akins) that many middle-of-the-road voters abandoned conservative candidates and supported those aligned with reproductive rights – much to the relief of those of us who support family’s rights to reproductive health care.

There will be many struggles ahead to continue improving reproductive rights for all.  But this past year has shown that we’ve made some real steps forward.  We all deserve a pat on the back for the successes we’ve helped make happen.

Carlos Conde, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said of the Philippines Reproductive Health Bill, “This bill marks the start of an era in which public policies can save lives, promote healthy family planning, and respect human rights.”

Let’s hope this positive momentum carries over into 2013 for women and their families all over the world.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.


(photo credit: knowledge.allianz.com)


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