A few weeks ago, the world welcomed its 7 billionth baby. On October 31, Ted Turner authored an article for CNN titled “7 billion reasons to empower women.” He points out the fact that the 7 billionth baby mark is especially concerning because of how quickly we’ve met it. In 1950, the world’s population was estimated to be 2.5 billion. It’s estimated that humans will number over 10 billion at some point after 2083. As Turner points out, by 2010, we could have almost 50% more people on earth than at present.
What does this mean for the human race? It means that it’s time to start talking about women’s reproductive rights in whole new light. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof recently authored an op-ed titled “The Birth Control Solution.” He suggests that the true key to battling world poverty and climate change threats is to focus on family planning, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Kristof blames unfettered population growth for terrorism as well. He states, “youth bulges in rapidly growing countries like Afghanistan and Yemen makes them more prone to conflict and terrorism.” He also suggests that family planning has met its greatest challenges from politicians and religious groups. Kristof points out that this is a modern challenge, and reports, surprisingly, that birth control traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. Currently, however, that’s not the case.
Beyond concerns of fostering terrorism, climate change, poverty and dwindling resources, perhaps we should focus on the greatest threat of our growing world population: women’s health. In response to the news about the 7th billion baby’s birth, author Madison Park reported on the very real threat that childbirth can pose to women in underdeveloped parts of the world. In her piece, “In giving life, women face deadly risks,” Park reports that “Pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death among women living in developing countries.” This data is reiterated in Turner’s piece, previously discussed, where he reported that, “In the developed world, one out of 4,300 women will die as a consequence of pregnancy. That number is one in 31 in sub-Saharan Africa, and a staggering one out of eight women dies giving birth in Afghanistan.” These numbers are not acceptable. And in looking at these populations, it’s clear that what many of them have in common is lack of sex education and access to birth control. With higher birth rates come greater complications, and a heightened risk of danger to women’s health.
So where do we go from here? A good place to start is with a discussion about the recently released United Nations report titled “ Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Among the various health topics touched upon in the UN Report, is women’s health. What’s their suggestion? “Public morality cannot serve as a justification for enactment or enforcement of laws that may result in human rights violations, including those intended to regulate sexual and reproductive conduct and decisionmaking.” For those countries that criminalize abortions and birth control, the UN suggests that it’s time that these regulations end. “Criminal prohibition of abortion is a very clear expression of State interference with a woman's sexual and reproductive health because it restricts a woman's control over her body, possibly subjecting her to unnecessary health risks.”
Why is it that governments are willing to risk the health of their female citizens for “moral” reasons? And what do these reports suggest about the religious and political wars against women’s reproductive rights in our own country? How do we combat these backwards approaches?