When the 6 billionth child is born, she or he will not be greeted with a photo spread in People and a year's supply of diapers. She should receive an even better gift -- the promise of sound international support and policies that could offer a life filled with possibility, not poverty. Adequate funding and support for family-planning programs in the United States and around the world coupled with U.S. investment in health and education overseas -- especially for women and girls -- is critical to empowering individuals. Providing quality reproductive-health care in turn ensures a greater chance for good education, economic opportunity, and environmental health around the world.
History has shown that reproductive freedom is the key to women's empowerment. This truth was acknowledged in 1994 when the nations of the world met in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development. There, they formally recognized that reproductive rights are a basic human right, that "all couples and individuals have the right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to do so."
This solution is affordable. U.S. support for international family-planning-assistance programs costs each of us less than 3 cents per week. Over one year, this is less than the cost of one bag of popcorn at the movies to help tens of millions of couples in developing countries gain access to family planning.
Congress has the power to improve the lives of countless women. It should seize this opportunity by supporting international family-planning programs carried out by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
They may not, though. A minority in Congress wants to deny funding for UNFPA and place debilitating requirements on USAID family-planning assistance overseas. These extremists think "abortion" when they hear the words "family planning." How wrong they are: Family planning means breast and cervical cancer screenings, access to contraception, yearly pelvic exams and responsible sex education.
A 1973 law prohibits U.S. funds from being used for abortions in other countries. But while these congressmen distort the facts, nearly 600,000 women die each year due to pregnancy-related causes. The vast majority of these deaths could be prevented if these women had access to family planning and reproductive-health care.
This Oct. 12, observe the Day of 6 Billion by writing your elected representatives in Washington. Tell them that as a citizen of the world, you consider international family-planning programs critical to the lives of millions of women around the world. Tell them people should be the focus of all efforts to promote development and social justice, eradicate poverty and create sustainable living conditions throughout the world.
Tell them without family planning, there will be even more unplanned pregnancies, more deaths and more people struggling to survive. Let them know if they ignore the wishes of the American people, they will hear from you again.
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