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Published: Wednesday, 12/11/2002

The family planning gap

Too bad for women in developing nations that American conservatives disregard the link between poverty and women's access to family planning. Efforts to foster economic growth in Third World nations are futile if those women can't get family planning or education.

A new U.N. Population Fund report shows that the gap between rich and poor nations has everything to do with women's access to sexual health services. The State of World Population 2002 report stated that in 1980 almost 19 percent of the world's population lived in absolute poverty. Population in the least developed nations has tripled since 1955 and is expected to triple again in the next 50 years.

But none of that makes any difference to those who thwart U.S. efforts to give to international family planning programs.

Last summer the Bush Administration bowed to conservatives when it refused to ante up the $34 million it had allocated for U.N. family planning programs overseas. Opponents claim that U.S. money for the U.N. Population Fund tolerates abortions on the international front. But for the last 30 years, federal law has forbidden the use of American aid to perform abortions.

Moreover, the executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, a graduate of Wayne State University's graduate school, says that no U.S. funds pay for abortions in foreign countries - the money is used for voluntary contraception.

Conservatives surely consider pressuring the administration to not support U.N. family planning efforts overseas a triumph. But the view disregards women in the Third World who have no control over their own reproductive health. Those women can't contribute to the economic wellbeing of their nations if they have no say in their families' economic health.

These families cannot break out of the cycle of poverty unless access to family planning is improved. The U.N. report states that families in developing nations select to have fewer children when they are presented the option. Other important results often overlooked when family planning is available involve the general health and wellbeing of children and their families.

When health care and education are improved, children survive infancy, and mothers and other family members live healthier lives.

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