Right now, leaders from around the world are gathered at the United Nations to discuss the best solutions to address some of the world’s biggest challenges – from poverty, to terrorism, to maternal and infant mortality. Setting the next 15-year agenda for global development is a daunting task, and leaders are rightfully debating which issues to prioritize. But there should be no debate over one in particular: universal access to family planning.
While we’ve seen a lot of progress over the course of the last 15 years, the statistics still feel shockingly anachronistic in the 21st century. Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy-related complications. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to tragic complications. Sadly, pregnancy is still the leading cause of death for adolescent girls in low to middle-income countries across Asia and Africa.
There are currently more than 220 million women who want to delay or prevent pregnancy, but are without access to modern contraception. International experts agree that if we were to meet this need, we could cut maternal mortality by a third and infant mortality by up to 20 percent. Not only would this save millions of lives, we would set women and families on a path towards greater economic empowerment. With access to contraception, girls can delay pregnancy and stay in school. Women can pursue jobs to secure a steady income, and have children if and when they’re ready. This has a massive multiplier effect – children are healthier, families are lifted out of poverty, developing countries open new doors for economic prosperity and political stability, and the planet becomes a safer and more sustainable place.
If that’s not enough of an incentive, consider that while meeting the need for contraception would cost an estimated $4.1 billion, it would save $5.7 billion in other development costs. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article just named universal access to sexual and reproductive health as one of the top-five most valuable interventions. Returns could be as high as $150 for every $1 spent.
The evidence makes this abundantly clear: family planning is a simple, cost-effective solution that can save lives today, and create a better world for tomorrow. As we honor World Contraception Day, we're reminded that it’s time to rally bipartisan support for increased funding for international family planning, a human rights cause the United States should back robustly. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do. By improving access to basic and critical services for girls and women, we can create healthier families, stronger communities, and a better world for tomorrow. Now that’s a return on investment.
Murphy is Connecticut's junior senator, serving since 2013. He sits on the Foreign Relations and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.