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2017 World Population Day: Family planning, birth control, a matter of conscience

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Yesterday was the World’s Population Day. It is a day set aside by the United Nations to focus attention on the urgency and impor­tance of population issues in the world. The Day was established by the then-Governing Coun­cil of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989, an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion, which was observed on 11 July 1987.

By resolution 45/216 of December 1990, the Unit­ed Nations General Assembly decided to continue observing World Population Day to enhance aware­ness of population issues, including their relations to the environment and development.

Information from the UN indicates that The Day was first marked on 11 July 1990 in more than 90 countries. Since then, a number of UNFPA coun­try offices and other organizations and institutions commemorate World Population Day, in partnership with governments and civil society.

Remarkably, the theme of this year’s day is Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations.

The theme is apt and instructive in the sense that around the world, some 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods, for rea­sons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities. Most of these women with an unmet demand for contraceptives live in 69 of the poorest countries on earth.

According to the world body, access to safe, vol­untary family planning is a human right. It is also central to gender equality and women’s empower­ment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty. “In­vestments in making family planning available also yield economic and other gains that can propel de­velopment forward”.

Fortunately, this year’s World Population Day, 11 July, coincides with the Family Planning Summit, the second meeting of the FP2020–Family Planning 2020–initiative, which aims to expand access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020.

Nigeria as a signatory to the United Nations res­olutions organised events to mark the Day with the Chairman, National Population Commission, Chief Eze Duruiheoma delivering messages to some of the events. In one of the messages the NPC chairman reiterated the fact that family planning is a person­al decision, and that universal access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by one-third of estimated 303,000 women, as well as reduce child deaths by 20 per cent globally.

The NPC chairman further stated that “contra­ceptives provided by UNFPA have the potential to prevent 11.7 million unintended pregnancies, close to 3.7 million unsafe abortions and prevent an esti­mated 29,000 maternal deaths.”

“Family planning is not only about saving lives but also empowering people and developing na­tions. Investment in family planning can contribute to a demographic dividend, which raises a coun­try’s economic growth potential.

“When the size of the dependent population shrinks relative to the size of those in the working age, it creates an economic advantage especial­ly in countries with lower levels of overall earn­ings,” he stated.

He lamented that despite immense benefits of family planning, resistance has been deeply root­ed in cultural prejudice and wrong interpretation of religious injunctions, and therefore tasked religious leaders to “save our women and the girl child from agonies of unwanted pregnancies.”

However, there are contrarian views on the sub­ject matter, especially coming from the church. It would be recalled that in 1968, Pope Paul VI is­sued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasised the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrin­sically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.

The dictionary describes contraception as “ the practice of preventing a woman from becoming pregnant but the catholic church describes contra­ception as any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its ac­complishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Hu­manae Vitae 14). This includes sterilization, con­doms and other barrier methods, spermicides, co­itus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill, and all other such methods.

A section of Christians believe that contracep­tion is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law pur­pose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sex­ual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, re­spect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the per­fect setting for nurturing children.

We cannot but agree with the United Nations that it is a human right to have access to safe, voluntary family planning but we must not ignore the fact that procreation must be done within the ambits of moral dictates. We also believe just like the church that the use of contraception is a matter for married couples to decide according to their individual conscience.

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