Celebrating the power of family planning on World Contraception Day

Written by Olivia Nater | Published: September 26, 2023

Today, September 26th, is World Contraception Day. Not many people are aware of this observance day, but they should be — modern contraception may be humankind’s greatest invention. The development of rubber condoms in the 1850s, the birth control pill a century later, and subsequently a whole smorgasbord of contraceptive options, have radically changed human lives for the better.

For one, women gaining the ability to control their fertility was a prerequisite for emancipation. Having the power to decide whether and when to get pregnant, as well as how many children to have (if any), freed women from a life of endless domestic chores and allowed them to pursue education and careers, which in turn helped them enter decision-making spheres. The gender equality movement would not have come this far without modern contraception.

Secondly, contraception has saved countless lives by reducing the rate of unintended pregnancy (which can lead to dangerous complications and unsafe abortion), and, in the case of condoms, the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that increased condom use since 1990 has averted 117 million new HIV infections.

Finally, contraceptive use had a major impact on population growth, and thus on our environment. According to the United Nations (UN), our population growth rate peaked in 1963, at 2.3% per year, when the total fertility rate (the average number of live births per woman) was around 5.3. If the growth rate had stayed the same over the years, there would be 12.5 billion instead of 8 billion people today, and we’d be facing an unthinkable 23 billion by 2050. With our current population already severely straining our planetary boundaries as evidenced by our escalating environmental crises, it’s hard to imagine a livable planet with 23 billion humans. It’s therefore not a stretch to say that modern contraception is saving the planet and the human species.

We are still far from leveraging family planning’s full women-empowering, life-saving and planet-protecting potential, however. The UN estimates that 257 million women around the world have an unmet contraceptive need, meaning they wish to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern birth control. We can end this unmet need, but funding for international family planning is severely lacking. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that addressing the unmet contraceptive need of women in low-and middle income countries would cost $12.6 billion annually. Based on the wealth of the U.S., our fair share contribution is $1.74 billion, yet in recent years, the government has been meeting only around a third of this target.

Family planning services provide unmatched returns on investment, so what are we waiting for? This World Contraception Day, let’s take a moment to be thankful for one of humanity’s most course-changing inventions, and call on decision-makers to provide it with the funding and attention it deserves.

Contact your members of Congress to ask them to support reproductive rights and family planning for all!