How Family Planning Benefits the Individual

By Richard Grossman MD | 27 April 2023
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(Credit: Eskinder Debebe, United Nations Photo / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The following has been extracted from a chapter titled “Family Planning Helps the World”. This chapter is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License).

It is generally recognized that voluntary family planning is essential for the lives and health of individuals in today’s world. What is less frequently acknowledged is that family planning has decreased the growth of human population over the past decades. Despite many wonderful advances since the industrial revolution, humans have caused massive deterioration of the natural world. Examples include climate disruption caused by the increase in greenhouse gases and the sixth mass extinction of species. Without modern, voluntary family planning, these negative effects would have been greater.

Benefits to the individual

Contraception allows women to enjoy sex with little worry about unintended pregnancy. This permits a woman to finish her education and to start a career before parenting, if that is what she chooses to do. The role of women in developed countries has changed markedly in the 60+ years since oral contraceptives first became available. Although there have been many other factors causing these changes, certainly “the pill” has had a major effect.

Family planning has been called one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the US Centers for Disease Control. It allows for longer intervals between the births of children and for smaller family size. By decreasing the number of pregnancies a woman has in her lifetime and increasing intervals between pregnancies, FP has also reduced the mortality and morbidity of women. Because of the longer birth interval, and because each child can receive more resources, FP has helped to save children’s lives—especially in developing countries. Improved barrier methods, such as female condoms and nonlatex male condoms, have decreased transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

We now have LARCs—Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives, including hormonal implants and several IUDs. LARCs have very low failure rates, partly because they do not require doing something (such as taking a pill) on a regular basis. Most of the IUDs available in the USA are hormonal. These are being evaluated to find out if they are effective for use longer than their original approval. In addition, they may be useful for postcoital (emergency) contraceptive use.

Copper containing IUDs, such as the T 380A (Paragard®), are also very effective for emergency contraception, if inserted within 5 days of unprotected intercourse. Other emergency contraceptive methods include levonorgestrel tablets (which are available without a prescription in many countries) and ulipristal. Although supplanted by more effective methods of emergency contraception, in some areas the only available method may be the Yuzpe regimen. This is using oral contraceptive pills containing ethinyl estradiol and norgestrel, although other formulations may also be effective. Current research has found that emergency contraceptive pills do not work by causing an abortion.

There are many good sources for information about birth control. One that is objective and geared to people in the USA is: www.plannedparenthood.org. The World Health Organization (www.who.int) is a good worldwide source for information.

Abortion

There are estimated to be 121 million unintended pregnancies worldwide each year. Some of these are miscarried, some intentionally aborted and some go to term. The World Health Organization states that, globally, about 60% of unintended pregnancies are aborted, and almost half of the abortions are “unsafe”. They estimate the total number of global induced abortions at 73 million annually.

“Unsafe abortion” is the term that is often used for abortions that are performed outside of the medical system. Usually these abortions are expensive, exploitive and dangerous. Women choose to have an unsafe abortion when they live where abortion is illegal or severely restricted. The risks of an unsafe abortion include serious illness such as hemorrhage or infection, and may result in sterility or death.

It is interesting that abortion is no less common in countries where it is illegal. Perhaps this is because many of these countries also limit access to contraception. Many of the countries where abortion is illegal have high levels of patriarchy and religiosity, with the beliefs that sex should only happen within a marriage. This goes along with limited or no sexuality education, so young women are likely to not be prepared to deal with aggressive males.

ED 2331 Doctor Richard Grossman — Health Care and Overpopulation

Contraception And The Catholic Church

Connecting Family Planning and the Environment: Interview With Robert Engelman, Worldwatch Institute

The Scientist’s Warning

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