Women Have the Right to Choose How Many Children They Want

A woman’s body is hers and hers alone. She has the right to make decisions concerning her body, and this includes how many children she wants- if any- and when she wants them. The woman herself is the one who knows when she is physically and emotionally ready and able to bear, give birth to and care for her child. Nobody else bears or gives birth to the baby, and therefore nobody else should have the final decision on when and whether a woman should become pregnant.

Once a woman can choose when and how many children she wants, she is often more able to determine the shape and nature of other parts of her life. She can commit to education and work, which will benefit her in providing skills and increased independence, which will benefit her family and society because of her increased earning power and freedom. Being a mother can be one of the most important things in the world, but other things are also very important: a woman has the right to reach her full potential. She is not a walking womb. This potential is not incompatible with having children, especially if these children are planned by the mother.

Indeed, these other parts of her life often lend themselves to being a better mother, especially in regards to education and the right and ability to work. If a mother is under eighteen in a developing country, her child is 60% more likely to die than if she were nineteen or older. The reasons for this mortality rate are complex, but her body not being physically ready and her education levels being low are major causes. Pregnancy and young children can interrupt schooling and work, and an uneducated woman is less likely to have the skills and knowledge to fully care for her child. This may be because she hasn’t had the time or the opportunity to learn these applicable or transferable skills. Or perhaps she is unable to access care subsequently (for example, by not being able to read information on nutrition or the labels on medicine bottles). Finally she may not have the earning power provided by an education and a job to afford such care.

Family planning has other positive health implications: it can mean better health for both mother and child. Women waiting until they are old enough to give birth and waiting for healthy periods of time between pregnancies- over two years as recommended by the World Health Organisation- saves the lives of both mothers and children. Every single year, fifty thousand teenagers die during pregnancy and childbirth, often because they are not physically ready. Furthermore, women are more than double as likely to die due to pregnancy if they become pregnant within five months of a previous birth, compared to those able to wait for a year and a half or more. Short gaps between births are also bad for the baby: evidence shows that, in developing countries, a gap of less than two years means the child is two times more likely to die than those born after three years of a previous birth. The shorter gap means babies are more likely to be underweight and undergo other health problems, and less likely to have the required household resources and care than if they were planned and prepared for. Unwanted pregnancies can also lead to unsafe abortions, which are dangerous to the woman.

Women should be empowered to make their own decisions concerning their bodies and their children. It is their right, and they should be able to exercise this right by having access to education on family planning and contraception. Only when a woman can plan her children can she plan and control the rest of her future, improving her life options, which will in turn positively affect others around her. This capacity to make informed choices and plan her pregnancies also increases the likelihood that she and her children will be healthy. Women having the ultimate decision on pregnancy will benefit mothers, their children, their family and their society.



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