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Christopher White points out that contraception is not the most powerful way to promote maternal health:

What about those women and girls in Africa who, as Kristof mentions, “have never heard of birth control”? Won’t they be faced with unwanted pregnancies and possibly die during childbirth? “It is true that the UNFPA’s report “Giving Birth Should Not Be a Matter of Life and Death” claims that family planning could reduce maternal deaths by 20 percent. But continue on, dear reader! One paragraph later, they note that skilled birth attendants and back-up emergency obstetric care would reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent. One can follow the money and easily see that U.N. and other international funding heavily favors family planning rather than providing these mothers with better care, which could save many more lives. Along with providing basic health care, this same funding could also be redirected to better educate women and girls, which, as many economists have noted, is a far more effective form of “family planning.”

Many of the people I know heap scorn on the idea of sexual abstinence because they believe that sexual freedom is a good that should be preserved for all and promoted as widely as possible. They know that sex has real risks and downsides, sure, but they seek to mitigate those through careful education and medical care. Not through calls to simply stop doing it. 

It’s striking how different our attitude on birth sometimes can be. Instead of looking for ways to make it safe and non-immiserating, a lot of policymakers seem to want people to just stop having babies.  It’s like the abstinence-only approach to child-bearing.

The real point is that whatever you view as a worthwhile good—whether it’s sexual freedom or an ethic of chastity and life—there are lots of ways to promote that good while still protecting health. We can’t say that someone is “pro-” or “anti-” women’s health without acknowledging that hiding behind our idea of health is a whole vision of the good life.

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