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Family Planning

Origin And Evolution Of Family Planning, Family Planning In The Global South, The "second Contraceptive Revolution"

Family planning refers to the use of modern contraception and other methods of birth control to regulate the number, timing, and spacing of human births. It allows parents, particularly mothers, to plan their lives without being overly subject to sexual and social imperatives. However, family planning is not seen by all as a humane or necessary intervention. It is an arena of contestation within broader social and political conflicts involving religious and cultural injunctions, patriarchal subordination of women, social-class formation, and global political and economic relations.

Attempts to control human reproduction is not entirely a modern phenomenon. Throughout history, human beings have engaged in both pro-and antinatalist practices directed at enhancing social welfare. In many foraging and agricultural societies a variety of methods such as prolonged breast-feeding were used to space births and maintain an equilibrium between resources and population size. But in hierarchical societies, population regulation practices did not bring equivalent or beneficial results to everyone. Anthropologists Marvin Harris and Eric Ross have shown that "As power differentials increase, the upper and lower strata may, in fact, develop different or even antagonistic systems of population regulation" (p. 19).

Being uniquely endowed with the capacity for reproduction, women of course have borne the costs of pregnancy, birth, and lactation, as well as abortion and other stressful methods of reproductive regulation. Social-class dominance over reproduction often takes place through the control of lower-class women by upper-class men. The particular forms these controls take vary across historical periods and cultures. In feudal agricultural and "plantation economies" experiencing labor shortages and short life expectancies, for example, there has been great pressure on women to bear as many children as possible.

In the modern era of industrial capitalist development, conservative fundamentalist groups have tended to oppose abortion and reproductive choice for women on grounds of religion and tradition. They believe that abortion and contraception are inimical to the biological role of women as mothers and to the maintenance of male-dominant familial and community arrangements. In both the industrialized north and the poor countries of the south, religious fundamentalists oppose abortion and the expansion of reproductive choices for women, and sometimes they do so violently, as in the attacks in the United States against clinics and doctors providing legal abortions. The rapid spread of evangelical Christianity and militant Islam around the world further aggravate the situation.

Partly as a result of religious fundamentalist opposition, in the early twenty-first century abortion remains illegal in many countries. It is estimated that worldwide approximately 200,000 women die annually due to complications from illegal abortions. The actual figures may be higher, since only about half the countries in the world report maternal mortality statistics. Indeed, the unchallenged position of the Vatican against artificial conception and the U.S. government policy against funding for international abortions has led some to believe that illegal abortions and maternal mortality could further increase. Not only does the Bush administration refuse money for abortions, but it also prohibits medical professionals in international organizations such as International Planned Parenthood from talking about abortion if they receive U.S. government support. In the context of both the conservative religious backlash and the problems attributed to global population expansion, family planning seems an enlightened and progressive endeavor. Yet, the movement to provide modern contraception has been fraught with gender, race, and class inequalities and health and ethical problems from the outset. Efforts to reform and democratize international family planning must necessarily grapple with these concerns.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to Ferrocyanide