Sexual and Reproductive Heath and Rights: A Global Obligation

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Authors: Kassandra Messier, Ayah Nayfeh

Universal access to sexual and reproductive health care is at the forefront of human rights issues of the 21st century. Every year in developing countries, there are 74 million unintended pregnancies leading to approximately 36 million abortions. Of these abortions, 21 million are unsafe which makes up nearly 13% of all maternal deaths globally [1]. The global advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights are susceptible to change in 2017, as new international aid agendas are set.

In 2015, all 193 member countries of the United Nations agreed to adopt Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, which comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to create a more equitable and prosperous world [2]. Among these goals, is the aim to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, information and education, and safe and effective contraception through integration into national strategies and programs.

The Copenhagen Consensus, which aims to establish priorities among many global welfare initiatives, states that making sexual and reproductive health services universally accessible is one of the top and most cost effective ways to achieve Goal 3 of the SDG: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. Family planning interventions are inexpensive with very clear benefits and according to Kohler (2012), have a very high return of $150USD back on every dollar [3].

In spite of these stark realities for many women and young girls around the world, funding for sexual and reproductive health under the new Trump administration is severely under threat. Merely two days after millions of women took to the streets and marched in support of women’s rights, the Trump administration reinstated the Global Gag Rule. This action restricts non-governmental organisations from receiving funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), if they are to partake in pro-abortion activities, even if these activities are funded by other sources.

The US provides a large portion of its funds to global reproductive health initiatives, and this Global Gag Rule will force many well-established organisations to lose hundreds of millions of dollars of funding towards sexual and reproductive health research for addressing these serious gaps. Ultimately, this policy will exacerbate and further entrench the already significant challenge of expanding universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights at a global scale. In fact, a 2011 report from the World Health Organisation found that when the Global Gag Rule was reinstated in 2001 during the Bush administration, there was an increase in rates of abortion in sub-Saharan Africa, likely owing to reduced access to contraceptives [4].

Marie Stopes International (MSI), an NGO responsible for providing voluntary contraceptive services to millions of women and girls across Africa and Asia, recently announced that they will not comply with the newly reinstated policy and therefore will lose a significant portion of their funding. Without the USAID funding, the organisation estimates that the loss of its services will result in 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths [5]. The vice president and director of MSI’s international operations stated that, ‘’Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws – or by withholding family planning aid – will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion.’’ [6]

Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights is a global obligation that will promote stronger and more equitable societies, and will promote women and girls’ empowerment and human rights. As many as 20 countries have indicated their support for efforts to replace the $600 million in funding that will be lost as a result of the decision made by the Trump administration.

At the forefront of this movement is Canada, who recently announced an investment of $650 million over three years for international sexual and reproductive health projects [5]. This investment is double that of Canada’s current investment and would finance a multitude of global health programs such as contraception, reproductive health, legal abortion, sexuality education, as well as advocacy work. These initiatives will enable 120 million more women and girls to use safe and effective methods of contraception by 2020 and will accelerate progress in the use of family planning services in low and middle-income countries.



1. Impact Of Global Gag Rule On Women’s Health (2017). Washington: Center for Health and Gender Equity, 1st ed. Accessed: 14 March 2017.

2. Health – United Nations Sustainable Development (2017). United Nations Sustainable Development. N.p. Accessed: 13 March 2017.

3. Kohler, H. P. (2012). Population Dynamics Assessment Paper for the third Copenhagen Consensus. The Copenhagen Consensus Center. Accessed: 12 March 2017.

4. Bendavid E., Avila, P. and Miller, G. (2011). WHO | United States Aid Policy and Induced Abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Health Organization. Accessed: 12 March 2017.

5. Kirkup, K. (2017). Trudeau Announces $650M For Sexual And Reproductive Health Projects Around The World. National Post. N.p. Accessed: 13 March 2017.

6. Sifferlin, A. (2017). “Here’s What The Mexico City Policy Means For Women”. N.p. Accessed: 13 March 2017.

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