Back 10 July 2018

World Population Day 2018


Family Planning is a Human Right

Statement from Franka Cadée, President

11 July 2018

On this World Population Day, we focus on family planning: the belief that every person has the right to decide when and if they will have children and what their family will looks like. This is informed by the primacy of human rights, which gives us all the right to control our own bodies.


As President of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and a proud advocate for human rights, I believe that access to family planning is a basic human right. However, this right extends beyond planning families – it is about each of us freely choosing what happens to our bodies, whether that extends to family or not.

This idea of “not family planning” is important , because when we talk about 'family planning', we risk by our very language, excluding a large – and relevant – group of people who may not want a family, but are sexually active. To be fair and inclusive and especially to engage our youth, we need to send the right message, which is that access to contraceptives is a human right.

Midwives are the key health professionals to support women and girls in asserting their sexual and reproductive rights, because midwives support the full spectrum of sexual health care: from sexual education through to child care. Part of every midwife’s responsibility is to ensure that every pregnancy is safe, supported and wanted. Personal feelings aside, midwives have a duty to counsel women to make independent choices that fit their own contexts. Contraceptive care is an integral part of a midwife’s work and cannot be overlooked.

One in eight maternal deaths is the result of an unsafe abortion, and of all abortions in the world, as many as 48% are classified as ‘unsafe’. In many circumstances, these women had no access to contraceptives, which means that in circumstances where a baby cannot or will be supported, women tend to opt for more drastic measures. Contraceptives save lives: they are evidence-based, minimally invasive, and empowering.

ICM is in favour of safe abortion and pre and post-abortion care (the ICM Position Statement can be found here) that is made available to all women – not instead of contraception, but in addition to contraception. Midwives already perform abortions in many countries (e.g. Sweden), but this is not the case in every country. Ireland has recently passed a referendum to Appeal the 8th Amendment of its Constitution, which prohibited abortion and abortion-related services. The impact on the rights of Irish women are significant, and will nullify the ‘illegality’ of the 5,000-plus women in Ireland who have illicit abortions every year by either travelling to England or importing abortion pills (which is a serious criminal offence). In 2017, Chile’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a reproductive rights bill. The bill legalised abortions in extreme cases – abortions were previously illegal in all instances. The bill was bolstered by public support as 70 percent of Chileans approved the legislation.

Ireland has demonstrated a commitment to human rights in repealing the 8th Amendment, Chile has enacted its legislation to further women’s rights and Argentina is making strides towards doing the same. At present, women who have an abortion in Argentina can be jailed for four years, or longer if the baby is deemed to have been viable outside of the womb. Though there are technicalities within the law, they were demanding – often requiring women to state the pregnancy is a result of rape or prove that their baby will be malformed. Despite this, nearly half of a million unsafe abortions take place in Argentina. Predictably, many women do not survive.

In conversations around gender equity, access to contraceptives as a human right impacts men just as much as women. It takes two to conceive, but a man and a woman might not feel the same about whether to continue a pregnancy. Contraceptive access allows all of us to proactively determine our future – whether we want to start a family, or not. Contraceptive accesss, among other methods, will lower the maternal mortality rate, it will reduce the rate of abortions – both safe and unsafe – and it will ensure every baby is wanted. It is a part of what it means to be a midwife: as a defender of human rights, and human lives.

The way forward is marked by both accessibility to contraceptives, and education about their use. Education of boys and girls before they are sexually active is vital. Everyone should have an understanding of their rights: to sex education, to consent to sex, to become intimate, to use contraceptives, and to have an abortion – because ultimately, to not make an informed choice is to make a very different kind of choice.

Midwives work close to where people live and play an important role in sexual education, but the language we use to promote this education is important. We have an obligation to the individuals and families we serve to ensure that they conceive and complete a safe and satisfying pregnancy…provided that is what they actually want.

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