Faith-Based Groups Play Important Role In Promoting Access to Family Planning In the Developing World

Policymakers Should Take Note that Many Faith Traditions Strongly Affirm The Role of Family Planning in Promoting Global Health and Development

Also in this issue of Guttmacher Policy Review:

"A New Frontier in the Era of Health Reform: Protecting Confidentiality for Individuals Insured as Dependents," by Rachel Benson Gold;

"Implementing the Federal Contraceptive Coverage Guarantee:
 Progress and Prospects," by Adam Sonfield;

"Leveling the Playing Field: The Promise of Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives for Adolescents," by Heather D. Boonstra;

For the Record, "Against the Tide: Moving Forward on Abortion Rights," by Andrea Rowan.

Contrary to public perception, faith-based organizations from diverse religious backgrounds are key players in the provision of family planning services around the world, and those based in the United States advocate for increased U.S. assistance in this area to boost global health, according to a new Guttmacher Institute analysis. These groups, including some that oppose abortion rights, explicitly connect their advocacy for family planning to their support for maternal and child health projects, based on evidence that birth spacing is critical to lowering numbers of deaths and disabilities. These groups also recognize the crucial role that contraceptives play in reducing the need for abortion overall and unsafe abortion in particular.

"When it comes to the political debate on religion and family planning, it's often hardliners who drive the narrative, wrongly suggesting that supporting access to contraception and holding religious beliefs are incompatible," says Sneha Barot, a Guttmacher policy analyst and author of the new analysis. "However, this narrative is directly contradicted by the long-standing efforts of numerous faith-based organizations that consider family planning to be central to their missions to support women, children and families—and integral to their efforts to promote global health."

Barot notes that women of every religion and in every region of the world, including the United States, practice contraception. However, the stakes are especially high in developing countries, where in 2012 some 222 million women had an unmet need for modern contraception. Fulfilling this unmet need is critical to global health efforts, as it would prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, which otherwise would result in 26 million abortions (of which 16 million would be unsafe), 79,000 maternal deaths and 1.1 million infant deaths.

"Their broad reach within many low-income countries make faith-based organizations well-positioned—and in some places uniquely positioned—to make significant contributions toward improving family planning access," says Barot. "These organizations often reach a significant portion of the population, especially in Africa, and provide an essential safety net for health services in certain areas where government health systems are weak or absent altogether."

The reality is that government, faith-based and secular partners have long found common ground on family planning. Given their influence and experience, the United States has actively sought partnerships with faith-based organizations and leaders to promote access to family planning services and information throughout the developing world.

Barot cautions that despite the extensive support faith-based organizations demonstrate for family planning, many disagree over "acceptable" contraceptive methods, clients and partnerships: For example, some faith-based organizations consider contraceptive methods such as the IUD or emergency contraception to be equivalent to abortion. Others may object to partnering with groups that provide or support abortion services, or services for adolescents or unmarried individuals. For its part, the U.S. government has established rules for all of its partners to ensure that the principles of voluntarism and informed choice are upheld for all of its family planning clients, while still respecting the beliefs and needs of faith-based institutions.

As part of her analysis, Barot provides examples of different USAID-supported faith-based initiatives or organizations and their value in promoting family planning in Liberia, Afghanistan, Nepal and Rwanda.

Read the full analysis here: "A Common Cause: Faith-Based Organizations and Promoting Access to Family Planning in the Developing World," by Sneha Barot, Guttmacher Policy Review, Fall 2013.

For more information:

Fact sheet: Costs and Benefits of Investing in Contraceptive Services in the Developing World
Contraceptive Use is the Norm Among Religious Women in the United States
London Summit Puts Family Planning Back on the Agenda

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