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Help women to curb reproduction

by Jane Roberts

On June 26, the Bush administration, for the seventh year in a row, refused to release congressionally approved funds for the United Nations Population Fund.

The fund, supported by 181 countries last year, not only offers reproductive health care and family planning in 151 countries but also studies population and poverty trends. It's a good time to talk about population. The fate of women is central to any population debate.

The planet is home to 6.7 billion people, and about 75 million more births occur each year than deaths. Ninety-eight percent of this growth happens in the poorest countries.

In these countries, there is high maternal mortality (more than 500,000 maternal deaths in childbirth each year) and nearly 10 million deaths of children under age 5. Four million of these deaths happen in the first month of life due in large part to the ill health of the mother.

In 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine the number and timing of their children. Forty years later, modern contraception remains out of reach for hundreds of millions of people.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, 210 million pregnancies occur in the world every year, and 42 million of them end in abortion, half of which are risky and illegal. About 70,000 women per year die from unsafe abortions. This is unacceptable. Universal access to family-planning help and the highest standard of reproductive health must become the order of the day. Yet there has been a sharp reduction in international funding for reproductive health in general, and in particular in the area of family planning.

The family-planning component of the worldwide reproductive health budget has fallen from 55 percent to 7 percent, says Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.

Women, if educated and given choices, have fewer children, and they educate them better and keep them healthy. The women often earn incomes, and that improves family and community life. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently said: "In women, the world has the most significant but untapped potential for development and peace." The fate of women is closely linked with population issues. Population is important. Women are important. We ignore both at our peril.

Jane Roberts is co-founder of 34 Million Friends of the UN Population Fund. She is a resident of Redlands.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

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