Debates about mandatory health insurance coverage of contraception by employers in the U.S. are common these days. As a Christian who is guided by my faith and a call to serve the vulnerable, I feel compelled to speak out to share my perspective as a Christian and an international health professional about an important question that is too often overlooked: the role of child spacing and family planning in protecting the health of mothers and children and enhancing overall family well-being, especially in developing countries.
It was a desire for service derived from my Christian faith that helped launch my career in global health when I got my start at age 21 as a Mennonite volunteer working in community development in Somalia and with refugees in Tanzania. During my 50 years in international development and public health that followed, I managed large health programs with USAID and worked in Zaire, Pakistan, Cameroon, Ghana and Morocco. I also spent several years at the World Bank as a public health specialist.
Through the years, I have seen many cases where mothers, families and communities benefit when couples have the information and the means that enable them to plan the spacing of their children and the size of their families. Empowering parents to grow their families at a rate they can afford gives parents the chance to devote more of their time and limited resources to feed and educate each child. The health of the mother and her children is optimized when births are safely spaced. A child in a developing nation has an even greater risk of dying if the mother dies, or the child has siblings very close in age.
I now serve as the executive director of Christian Connections for International Health, www.ccih.org a network of individuals and organizations from protestant, Catholic, evangelical, and mainline denominations, who are all dedicated to a vision of a world where all have access to basic health services, including family planning. In addition to a range of contraceptives, family planning includes natural family planning methods, which have been shown to be highly effective when couples are motivated and informed. We are clear that family planning does NOT include abortion.
CCIH members working in the poorest regions of the world offer families services consistent with a family's faith to help them plan the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, along with other health services, as they recognize it reduces abortion and is crucial in protecting the health of women and children. We know that in areas where family planning methods are being used by the greatest number of women, abortion rates are lower than in those areas where only a small proportion of women have access to family planning methods.
Protecting the health of mothers and their children and preventing abortions through avoiding unintended pregnancies should be obvious goals for Christians. Let's not lose sight of who suffers the most when families are not able to safely space pregnancies and parents have children they are unable to support.
What would Jesus do? I believe that today he would support measures that improve the health of mothers and babies and enhance life and overall family well-being.