UN Group Calls Contraception a Basic Right

UN Group Calls Contraception a Basic Right November 19, 2012

The UN Population Fund has issued a new report that calls access to contraception and family planning services a “universal human right” because it is so crucial to empowering women and making it possible for them to have anything like equality and justice.

“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the fund, said in a written statement. “Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

The report effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.

Hear, hear. This report doesn’t change the law at all, or even any international standards. But it’s absolutely true and it can’t be said often enough. Without access to contraception, equality for women is virtually non-existent.

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  • Chiroptera

    Good thing the UN didn’t pass that “anti-blasphemy” resolution, ’cause this is gonna count as blasphemy to some folks!

  • bobo

    oh man, now women are gonna be sluts!! and hasten the end times!


  • eric

    The curmudgeon in me says that we really shouldn’t be calling an activity that is highly dependent on technology – or any sort of reasonably advanced technological tool – a ‘human right.’ That would imply that stone age societies were immoral merely because of their level of technology, which doesn’t seem right at all.

    But I’m just grumping. Contraception is certainly an important enough tool that those who can feasibly have access to it should have access to it.

  • mythbri

    @eric #3

    In a world where many, many women still don’t have much say in who they have sex with or how often, control over the potential developments that may come from that sex is absolutely a human right.

  • Johnny Vector

    Eric, I strongly disagree. We’re talking about our society now, and the specific things that are available to us. There is no technical obstacle to making contraception available, so it should be.

    We’re allowed to get smarter. Limiting what we consider a fundamental right to only what was available some time in the past makes no sense. What should be considered a basic right depends on what is available. This no more makes stone age societies immoral than it makes us immoral for not providing universal genetic manipulation to everyone.

  • I would say that making contraception a basic right does not follow so much from its availability/technological consideration as it does from being a prerequisite to the effective exercise of rights to person/bodily autonomy.

  • eric

    @4: if you’re referring to choice to carry a pregnancy to term or not, yes I agree with that.

    @5: if you go this route, your ‘basic human rights’ will shift around with the techonological capability of your society. That carries a risk that you may trivialize/overuse the term and it will consequently not have the political action effect you desired when you decided to use the term in the first place. I guess the idea of context-specific human rights is fine, as long as everyone understands that that’s what you mean by a ‘human right.’ I’m guessing most people think of them being something more fundamental and unchangeable than that, though.

    @6: yes, like @4, I think I’d be happier with saying there’s a human right to bodily autonomy, and the right to make (whatever) contraceptive choices (may be available) for oneself derives from it.

    Again, just grumping about terminology. I’m substantively in agreement; its an important freedom that should be supported and expanded.

  • mythbri

    @eric #7

    Do you agree that healthcare is a basic human right? If so, I’m not sure what the leap is between healthcare and controlling one’s own fertility. And no, I’m not strictly speaking of abortion rights, but of contraception in general.

  • Michael Heath

    I think the confusion here rests with a confused U.N. report, where they defectively conflate a negative right, females’ right to access contraception, with a positive right, compelling subsidizes paid by others so money isn’t a barrier to accessing contraception.

    The U.N. would have better served females specifically by delineating the two and pointing out that a female’s right to access contraception is an inalienable right. Perhaps using a more could more modern term, such as inviolable or sacrosanct). The assertion of this negative right should be followed with the argument that infringing on this right is objectively immoral, which it is. We know impediments result in increased human suffering. So this right to access is sacrosanct ground, any infringement is worthy of both fierce condemnation and sanctions by other countries.

    The U.N. should have then made a case for why societies should compel public policy which makes such access affordable and accesible for all females, i.e., its important enough to create a positive right for females to access contraception if they choose to do so. Here they should make their policy argument on why it benefits all of humanity if all females are provided adequate education, access, and if needed, public financing.

    This solves the tech problem brought up earlier in the thread because our positive rights do change over time as conditions change and public policies change as well, sometimes not in parallel like we’d all hope. However our negative rights never change since they are by definition inalienable. Only the sufficiency of protection we enjoy and how the exercise of those rights competes with the negative rights of others changes over time. E.g., gays have always have had the right to marry; however only in the past couple of decades have certain governing entities began to allow the exercise of this right. But gays are not granted this right, we’re instead observing moral progression that begins to better protect their rights.

  • bradleybetts

    @eric #7

    “I’d be happier with saying there’s a human right to bodily autonomy, and the right to make (whatever) contraceptive choices (may be available) for oneself derives from it”

    I would agree with this. I don’t see contraceptives as a Human Right in and of themselves, but access to them is a necessary part of fulfilling your Human Right to bodily autonomy.

    In other words, if we all agree that Bodily Autonomy is a Human Right, then the right to contraception naturally follows from that. So what are people disagreeing about?