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February 6, 2012 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Women's reproductive rights are not an issue that concerns only women. A well-documented causal chain connects a woman's access to contraception and abortion services, the fertility rate, women's educational levels in a developing nation, and that nation's gross domestic product.

These connections are obscured in developed nations such as the United States where the overall relative wealth of the non-poor segments of society more than counters the diminished contributions of the lower socioeconomic classes. Of course, these circumstances are to the detriment of American society. Our human capital is being wasted on a profligate scale. The New York Times reported recently that 46.2 million Americans are living below the poverty line. This total represents the highest number in the 52 years since the Census Bureau has been publishing data on poverty in America.

Thus, the United States - still the wealthiest nation by most measures - contains within its borders what may rightly be considered a huge developing nation. The 42 million American poor is a larger population than that of Tanzania, Algeria, Morocco, Kenya, and Uganda. The number is almost equal to the combined populations of Guatemala, Mali, and Ecuador. And most Americans who are lucky enough to have work, eat regularly, and be warm at night pay about as much attention to their less fortunate fellow citizens as they do to the starving poor in Kenya, Uganda, or Guatemala. Apparently, those at the very top of the heap care even less, if that's possible. Recently, a Republican candidate for president declared "I'm not concerned about the very poor."

What do these matters have to do with women's reproductive rights? To begin, the availability of reliable birth control methods enables women to control the number and spacing of children they will have. The key point is choice. No availability of reliable birth control methods directly equates to no choice. With availability of birth control and other factors such as access to education for girls and young women, total fertility rates drop. As the fertility rate decreases, women are able to participate more fully in the local economy. Overall, the nation's wealth increases. All citizens benefit.

As has been forcefully demonstrated recently, the availability of choice is deemed critical to the health and well-being of men and women in all socioeconomic groups. When the Susan G. Komen Foundation attempted to halt future funding of Planned Parenthood, the national response was immediate and vigorous. The foundation quickly backed-and-filled and announced it would continue to review Planned Parenthood grant applications.

The Komen Foundation debacle highlights the dangerous intersection of politics and women's rights. Planned Parenthood devotes about 3% of its resources to abortion services. Anti-abortionists and those who believe women should not have access to contraception have been trying to undermine Planned Parenthood's activities for many years. The foundation must have believed that anti-reproductive rights forces were ascendant in the nation.

Millions of Twitter and Facebook posts proved them wrong.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

0 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy, Education, Health Care Policy, Transplantation, Women's Reproductive Rights


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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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