A World Without Contraception Is No Place for People

Let's do a World Contraception Day thought experiment, shall we?

Let's pretend that the right-wing anti-contraception crusaders get their way and ban all birth control in the United States. From this day forward, sex is solely for procreation.

The pill? Popped. IUDs? Done-for. The only rubbers found in pharmacies are bands, and supplies saved for partners deemed "sponge-worthy" long ago dried up. Sure, withdrawal or fertility awareness are fallback options, but let's say even those tricky methods are now deemed "obscene and illicit." The Comstock Laws are back, and they're badder than ever.

America would change -- and quickly. For one, the birthrate would rise, most likely well above the slightly less than two children the average American woman of today has in her lifetime. It's likely that more women and children would die. Pregnancy and childbirth always carry risks, and more births mean more chances for things to go terribly wrong.

With all those extra children, women would lose the ability to plan their own futures. Fewer women would earn college degrees, and they'd have a tough time working outside the home. Family incomes would fall, and our entire economy would suffer. It would be hard on the environment, too: One study found that every American baby generates nearly seven times the carbon footprint of every Chinese baby.

In short: It would be a disaster. How can I be so sure? Because for millions of women around the world, no "thought experiment" is necessary. They are already living it.

Here's a real life example courtesy of the Population Reference Bureau: Niger and the Netherlands are nearly the same size today -- with 16.9 million Nigeriens to 16.8 million Netherlanders. But that's quickly changing. According to United Nations projections, by 2050, Niger will have ballooned to 65.8 million people. The Netherlands, by comparison, will see only minimal growth -- to 17.9 million.

The average woman in Niger has 7.6 births over her lifetime. The average Netherlander: 1.7. Only about 18 percent of Nigerien women use a modern method of family planning. In the Netherlands, it's about 70 percent.

It would be silly to suggest that contraception use is the biggest difference between Niger and the Netherlands. But many of the problems facing the people of Niger are made worse for lack of family planning. Each year, 43,000 Nigerien babies die, and its maternal mortality rate is among the worst in the world. Meanwhile, the nation's astounding rate of population growth will be difficult to absorb. A large percentage of Niger's people already lack access to clean water, and a hunger crisis has left Niger's girls at risk of child marriage.

Sadly, Niger isn't alone. It's estimated that 222 million women in the developing world want to delay or avoid pregnancy but don't have access to modern contraception. If we could close this gap, unintended pregnancies would decline by two-thirds. We would prevent about 21 million births and 26 million abortions -- many of them unsafe. About 79,000 fewer women and 1.1 million fewer infants would die. Resources people rely on for their lives and livelihoods would be under less stress. Girls would be better educated, and national economies would get a boost.

So rather than engaging in World Contraception Day thought experiments, let's do something. Demand that Congress increase support for international family planning programs. By boosting our investment in international family planning to $1 billion -- up from the current $590 million -- we could provide an additional 20 million couples with contraception -- and a better life.

$1 billion for international family planning: It's a big number, but it's a modest amount to invest to ensure that all women have the opportunity to plan their families and design their own destinies.

Losing contraception would be a nightmare. Never having contraception in the first place is, too.

John Seager is President of Population Connection, the nation's largest grassroots population organization. The organization's website is populationconnection.org.