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Reuse, Reduce, Reproductive Rights: How Abortion Can Help Save the Planet

On Friday, the UN released its list of sustainability goals for the next 15 years, and achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls was number five on the list. According to experts like Allison Doody, an international advocacy associate...
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VICE is supporting the launch of the Global Goals for sustainable development. In the next fifteen years, these initiatives want to achieve three massive tasks: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change.

On Friday, the UN released its list of sustainability goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years, and achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls was number five on the list. Of the 16 other interrelated goals, issues around climate change featured prominently. As the regional director of Planned Parenthood, Carmen Barroso, urged in her New York Times op-ed, one way to combat gender inequality along with promoting environmental sustainability is to support women's right to abortion and contraception. This year, a report by the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health concluded that improving access to family planning services is the most cost-effective way to address population growth, food insecurity, and climate change. The report estimated that a $9.4 billion annual investment in reproductive health would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies every year and provide 16 to 29 percent of the needed emissions reductions to slow global climate change. And while the ancillary environmental effects are great, we can't forget that there are 225 million women in the world who want to use contraception but don't have access.


To find out more about how access to contraception and safe abortions could save the planet, Broadly spoke to Allison Doody, an International Advocacy Associate at PAI, an organization that aims to put women in charge of their sexual health. PAI is currently working to end US policies—like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment, which prevents the foreign aid from supporting abortion as a method of family planning—that block both American women and women overseas from exercising their reproductive rights. They also work with local advocates in India, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan to protect these human rights.

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BROADLY: Is reproductive health an important aspect of environmental sustainability?
Allison Doody: Reproductive health and rights are an important aspect of environmental sustainability. Today, progress on sustainable development is increasingly being threatened by destructive extraction of natural resources, weak health systems, and the inability of women to make their own choices about their fertility. The resulting high rates of disease, maternal and child death, and destruction of natural environments undermine efforts to create healthy and thriving communities. The urgency and the interconnected nature of these challenges require integrated solutions that improve access to sexual and reproductive health services in hard-to-reach and underserved areas, while empowering communities with the knowledge and tools needed to manage their natural resources in ways that conserve critical ecosystems, contribute to better health outcomes, and expand livelihoods—all key components of the SDGs.


Access to safe abortion is a right, a moral imperative, and a matter of public health.

In your opinion, are the UN goals emphasizing the importance of family planning enough?
While there is always room for improvement, the newly adopted Agenda 2030 and the SDGs are a step in the right direction. They go beyond what was included in the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) by including targets on achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including family planning. Reproductive health was specifically called out as one of the MDGs that is most off-track and in need of increased attention. There is an entire goal devoted to achieving gender equality, and a recognition that achieving gender equality is needed to meet all the goals and targets.

Still, we need to make sure that the SDGs—particularly those that directly address sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, and family planning—are prioritized. We must ensure that indicators are in place to measure progress on policies that respect and protect the reproductive rights of all people. Governments need to meet the goals and targets to which they have agreed. They also need to work in partnership with civil society, especially women and girls, to develop policies that fulfill human and sexual and reproductive rights.

Read More: Young Women All Over the World are Still Dying in Childbirth

It's clear that reproductive health is not necessarily a priority in our own government. We almost defunded Planned Parenthood last week, and we still have laws like the Helms Amendment in place. How can we make sure that the UN's sustainability goals prioritize all forms of reproductive control, including abortion?
As advocates, our task is clear. To ensure the SDGs prioritize all forms of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, we must do as the preamble of the Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development says. We must "pledge that no one will be left behind."

Not only must we make sure that every intervention is of high quality, including sexual and reproductive health education, information, and services, but we must also support women when they demand their right to access safe abortion. We cannot reach Target 3.1, which calls on us to "reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births" by 2030, without talking about access to safe abortion. Access to safe abortion is a right, a moral imperative, and a matter of public health. While we have nearly halved maternal mortality over the past two and a half decades, nearly 290,000 women worldwide still die each year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth—13 percent of which result from unsafe abortion. It's clear that unsafe abortion is a factor in increased maternal mortality. How can we not talk about access to safe abortion?

If women have access to quality family planning and reproductive health, that will have positive impacts in all aspects of their lives.