Family planning advocates and Western do-gooders recently descended upon Ethiopia to hold the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning, entitled “Full Access, Full Choice.”
Conference supporters included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, abortion giants International Planned Parenthood Foundation and Marie Stopes International, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Ostensibly a conference on family planning—which, to minimize controversy, Melinda Gates and others often promise does not include abortion—the “Full Access, Full Choice” conference program illustrates how closely entwined contraception and abortion are, with its inclusion of sessions called “Abortion: Before and After,” “Emergency Contraception in Africa,” and “Access to Safe Abortion.”
The conference organizers placed an even greater emphasis on reaching young people with their promotion of contraception and advocacy for “comprehensive sex education.” UNFPA describes itself as taking the lead “to promote the sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of young people,” and the “Full Access, Full Choice” program included a session on “The Mobile Generation: Using Mobile Phones to Reach Young People with Family Planning Information,” as well as a panel on youth campaigns to increase contraceptive use among adolescents.
The lines have undoubtedly been blurred—to the extent that they ever existed—between the “family planning” efforts aimed at (married) adults and “safe sex” or “comprehensive sex education” aimed at children and adolescents. For example, a panel entitled “Shattering the Myth: Long Acting Reversible Contraception a Great Choice for Adolescents and Youth” makes little effort to disguise its acceptance, if not promotion, of adolescent sexual activity.
However, many in the developing world do not share these liberal attitudes surrounding family planning and sexual activity outside marriage. Indeed, contraception and abortion are anathema to the traditional values held by many in Africa, and those calling for basic necessities such as better prenatal and pediatric care, food programs, education, economic freedom, and protection from prostitution and sex trafficking are sidelined by development policy that is too often guided by a monomaniacal focus on family planning and population control.
U.S. development policy, at least under the current Administration, is closely aligned with that of the UNFPA, abortion providers, and like-minded nongovernmental organizations. In a video address to participants at the start of the conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed that “the United States and our partners must continue our life-saving work to advocate for sexual health and reproductive rights.”
While it is a mistake to think of family planning as a silver bullet for the problems of the developing world, such thinking seems likely to continue its heavy influence in the development agenda.