Family Planning: A Great Return on the Investment

A new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that development assistance for family planning services in developing nations is a pretty remarkable investment. According to the study, donor nations can see a 4-fold return on their investment if they support family planning services.

  • For 2007, donor countries should have contributed $3 billion of the $17.1 billion total estimated cost for contraceptive services. Yet the actual support provided by donors was only about $500 million – leaving a shortfall of $2.5 billion.
  • In a time of global financial difficulties, donor countries may want to avoid fulfilling such financial commitments. This would be a mistake. The cost of meeting the need for contraception is relatively modest, and an investment now will result in large future savings: Studies show that each dollar invested in contraceptive services will avoid between $1.70 and $4.00 in expenditures . . . but can total as much as $31.00 for each dollar spent on family planning.

Part of the problem is that the United States spent the last eight years neglecting to fund family planning services because of the Global Gag Order (aka “Mexico City Policy”), which prohibited US funds from being distributed to organizations that performed abortions, whether or not US funds were being used to perform them. This means that agencies which provided contraception options for women were woefully underfunded as a result. Thankfully the Obama administration has lifted this ban. But there is still a large financial shortfall that needs to be addressed.

Family planning is also an important investment for this country. According to another study by the Guttmacher Institute, STI transmission rates are on the rise in the US, as well as the medical costs associated to treat them.

  • The most recent national estimates, now a decade old, suggest that there are approximately 19 million new cases of STIs each year, half of them among 15-24 year olds . . .
  • Direct medical costs associated with STIs in the United States are estimated at $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars. More than $8 billion is spent each year to diagnose and treat STIs and their complications, not including HIV.

Nevertheless, government spending on comprehensive sex education has been virtually nonexistent for the last eight years, thanks to the Bush administration’s support of abstinence-only sex education. This is a complete waste of taxpayer money. Recent studies show that teen pregnancy rates are on the rise as a result of the abstinence-only push, and that students who receive abstinence-only sex education are more likely to seek abortion services than students who receive comprehensive sex education. The Guttmacher study concluded that students who receive comprehensive sex education are more likely to use contraceptives and condoms, and that many of the students either delayed or reduced sexual activity as a result of receiving medically accurate information. Consequently, it would be hard to argue that abstinence-only education is a responsible use of taxpayer money. As a result, Congress and local governments need to take a serious look at their education and public health expenditures and put reproductive health services and comprehensive sex education at the top of their agendas.

Cross-posted at Queercents.


  1. [...] On top of that great news, the bill itself also increases funding for family planning to $628 million, $50 million of which is being allocated directly to the U.N. Family Planning Agency. This is great news for women worldwide, as this funding can be used to decrease unwanted pregnancy, infant mortality, various sexually transmitted diseases including HIV & AIDS, as well as increase education and consciousness among both women and men to make healthy decisions about their bodies. And just to remind you, the return on family planning investments is fabulous. [...]

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