Family planning centers offer their clients a wide range of health services, extending well beyond contraception, according to “Contraception and Beyond: The Health Benefits of Services Provided at Family Planning Centers,” a review of scientific literature by Megan Kavanaugh and Ragnar Anderson of the Guttmacher Institute. Among their many benefits, these services improve maternal and child health by enabling women to time and space their pregnancies, reduce women’s cancer risk and prevent conditions ranging from STIs to diabetes and high blood pressure.

“By bringing together the array of research on the impact of family planning services, this study makes clear that the health benefits go far beyond pregnancy prevention and child spacing,” says lead author Megan Kavanaugh. “This analysis can serve as a baseline for future studies on the broad impact of contraceptive use and publicly funded contraceptive and related services.”

A large body of literature shows that family planning, including planning and spacing pregnancies, is linked to early initiation of prenatal care, more prenatal care visits, increased likelihood of breast-feeding and longer duration of breast-feeding by a mother; these healthy behaviors in pregnant women lead to better outcomes for their children. Additionally, adequate spacing between a birth and the conception of a subsequent pregnancy is linked to improved birth outcomes and a reduction in the number of babies born premature, at a low birth weight or small for their gestational age.

Use of contraceptives also yields a number of noncontraceptive health benefits. For example, contraceptive use can reduce women’s risk of developing certain reproductive cancers, and contraceptive methods can be used to treat many menstruation-related symptoms and disorders.

In addition, women and men who are served by publicly funded centers that offer family planning receive a wide range of other health services besides contraceptive care. Centers that provide family planning also offer their clients testing and treatment services, such as the HPV vaccination, Pap tests and STI testing, along with screenings for other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Early detection of all of these conditions can facilitate prompt treatment, improving health and preventing more serious consequences.

“The health benefits of the broad range of services available at publicly funded family planning centers are undeniable,” says Adam Sonfield, Guttmacher policy expert. “The body of evidence underscores the importance of ensuring unimpeded access to contraceptive and related services for all members of society.”

The researchers noted that despite the proven and significant health and economic benefits of publicly funded family planning services, there has never been enough funding to fully meet the reproductive health needs of the poor, low-income and young women they are designed to serve. Moreover, in recent years, these programs, which were already inadequately funded, have been subjected to shortsighted budget cuts and political attacks.

Contraception and Beyond: The Health Benefits of Services Provided at Family Planning Centers” is currently available online.