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A woman and her child wait in front of a women's clinic in Dakar, Senegal.
Associated Press/Photo by Dima Gavrysh
A woman and her child wait in front of a women's clinic in Dakar, Senegal.

Redefining rights

United Nations | New UN Population Fund report declares contraceptives a ‘human right’

NEW YORK—The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) described contraceptives as a “human right” in its annual report released Wednesday, and called on countries to give more money to provide “family planning” services to women.

The report (which can be found at the UNFPA website) says initially that “access” to contraceptives is a human right, which could indicate that the UN agency simply believes contraceptives should be legal. But the full report makes clear that the agency believes governments have a responsibility to provide contraceptives to any woman (or man) who doesn’t have them. (The UNFPA, despite its report, does not have jurisdiction to officially add contraceptives as a human right in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.)

“Today, family planning is almost universally recognized as an intrinsic right, affirmed and upheld by many other human rights,” the report reads. “Because it is a right, voluntary family planning should be available to all, not just the wealthy or otherwise privileged.” 

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“It is precisely such debasement of authentic human rights which puts people in the developing world in grave danger,” said Austin Ruse, the president of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), which has tracked the UNFPA closely. “Human rights are about freedom of religion, democratic self-determination, freedom of assembly, things that people all around the world agree with, and not something so controversial and divisive as a right to contraception. Many people may consider contraception to be acceptable, but even they would doubt that it rises to a level of human rights.”

The report said providing “family planning” to the estimated 222 million women in the world who don’t have it currently will cost the UN $8.1 billion a year, of which the body has raised $4 billion, from the public and private sector. But the report says contributions from various countries in 2010 fell $500 million short of commitments. The report warns that lack of contraceptives puts hundreds of millions of women “at risk of unintended pregnancy.”

The UNFPA is technically not allowed to subsidize abortions, but past reports by C-FAM have shown that the agency’s emergency family planning kits included manual vacuum aspirators, devices to suck a baby out of a womb. The agency also gives money to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which reported that it provided 1.6 million “abortion-related services” last year. The UNFPA also funds family planning with the Chinese government, whose family planning includes forced abortions and sterilizations. The agency asserts that it shares no resources with government officials performing coercive abortions, but the Population Research Institute has discovered instances of overlap.

Former President George W. Bush blocked funding to the UNFPA amidst allegations that the agency was indirectly subsidizing forced abortions. But President Barack Obama, on one of his first days in office in 2009, restored full funding to the UNFPA, about $40 million a year.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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