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Contraception not the answer to maternal mortality

  • 18 July 2012

More than 350,000 women die every year from difficulties related to pregnancy or childbirth. Some of the highest maternal mortality rates are on our own doorstep in East Timor and Papua New Guinea. It is imperative that we do more to provide basic health services in developing countries to save women's and children's lives.

But Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr's announcement of a doubling in AusAID funding for family planning and the article he wrote with Melinda Gates last week in The Lancet target pregnancy itself as the problem, rather than the lack of good basic health services.

This debate comes out of the London Summit on Family Planning which is looking to sign up governments to a huge boost in funding for contraceptives like the long acting injectable Depo-Provera, sterilisation and IUDs. These are methods that once administered are difficult for women in developing countries to reverse.

When basic health in developing countries is so limited, when a population has no access to basic, life-saving antibiotics, especially in the most remote regions where maternal mortality is most severe, it is unrealistic to think these methods can be administered responsibly.

The Catholic Church is one of the world's biggest service providers in maternal health and early childhood development. It approaches aid work recognising that the family is at the heart of human development. This is an approach which promotes the sanctity of life and the dignity of all human beings.

Parents must be allowed the judgement as to how many children they have and how much time they wish to leave between births. Any work by population bureaucrats must respect that freedom. Any effective and responsible program must have comprehensive, balanced education at its core, respecting parents' dignity.

The solution to poverty is not the sterilisation of women and men in developing countries, but more economic justice so they can share in the world's wealth.

Families in developing countries have more children when they are poor because that makes sense to them culturally and economically. Reducing people's poverty may allow parents to decide to reduce the number of children they have because they have a more secure future.

Natural family planning for regulating the number of children in a family promotes