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Contraceptive use could reduce maternal death rate globally

A recent study published by The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that satisfying the unmet need for contraception could reduce the global maternal death rate by 29% annually.  The study collected maternal mortality data from the United Nations and World Health Organization to estimate the number of maternal deaths averted by contraception use in 172 countries. Findings revealed that 342,203 women died of maternal causes in 2008, but contraceptive use reduced the number of deaths by 44%; without the preventive care, the number of maternal deaths would have been 1 to 8 times higher than the 2008 total.  Researchers of the study credit birth control’s capacity to save lives to its ability to reduce health risk by delaying first pregnancies, decreasing the practice of unsafe abortions[1], and controlling dangers associated with pregnancies spaced too closely.

Although the rate of maternal deaths has declined by a third since 1990, the issue has taken a back seat to other worldly issues like combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In recent months, the discussion of contraception has become extremely controversial and politically charged. Melinda Gates believes that “somewhere along the way we got confused by our own conversation and we stopped trying to save lives.”

The ACA has allowed the US to help improve the global health of women by investing more significantly in prevention. Under the ACA, preventive services must be covered without copayment, coinsurance or deductibles when delivered by a network provider. For women, these services include FDA approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, patient education and counseling sessions, and well-woman visits. If more women had access to these services worldwide, the rate of maternal deaths could be reduced significantly and the overall health of women vastly improved.

Nevertheless, the idea of providing more women access to contraception has met significant opposition, particularly from some practicing Catholics who feel conception is sacred. Others, like Melinda Gates, feel the use of contraceptives is a means of empowering women. Regardless of opinion, it is important to remember that women should be provided access to such preventive service, and that it is her decision to determine whether or not she seeks such services. Through the ACA, the US has taken steps to provide this opportunity; let’s hope that other countries soon follow suit.


For more on the religious controversy of the initiative, view this article. For access to the full report, click here.

To learn more about preventive care services covered under the ACA, visit the healthcare.gov website.

[1] Unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths in developing countries.

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