Population Matters

Philippines’ President Duterte battles for family planning

Philippines’ President Duterte battles for family planning

Failure to remove a court order restricting access to birth control is a significant obstacle to family planning in the Philippines, Asia’s most populous country, that is affecting some of the poorest communities in the country. This is the result of ongoing opposition from the Supreme Court and Catholic leadership. Despite this, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte will continue to push for the ban to be lifted in an effort to reduce child and maternal mortality, and poverty. 

“Birth control is critical for reducing poverty,” Duterte states.

President Rodrigo Duterte

In 2012, after a decade of negotiation, Duterte passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) law that guaranteed universal access to birth control (subsidised and/or free for the poor), mandatory sexual education in schools and the provision of reproductive health services in hospitals, including child and mother care.

Yet full implementation has been blocked. In June 2015 the Catholic church challenged the law as unconstitutional on the basis that it violated the country’s abortion laws. The Supreme Court passed a Temporary Restraining Order limiting the types of contraceptives the government can use while congress ordered budget cuts for the provisioning of contraceptives in many communities.

In January 2017 Duterte issued an executive order in an attempt to accelerate services that promote access to contraception instructing that the poorest households of his country should have “zero unmet needs for family planning by 2018.”  In the face of opposition, Duterte also called for greater collaboration with NGOs and the private sector in a bid to meet his country’s demand for family planning.

Desperate need

The increase of unintended pregnancies and abortions in the past 18 months is a likely consequence of these blocks, explains Juan Antoni A. Perez III, director of POPCOM (Filipino Commission on Population who aims to empower Filipino families). Filipino women are faced with increasing numbers of unintended pregnancies and induced abortions says POPCOM Executive Director Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III.

Currently 6 million Filipina lack access to family planning, and of these 2 million live in poverty. More than half of pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended and 90% of these occurred in the absence of birth control. Only the wealthy and middle class have access to contraception and abortion remains illegal.

“Family planning is very important in the Philippines because mothers have five, six, sometimes 13 babies” says Jean Paul Domingo, registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward.

In addition to helping alleviate poverty, RPRH remains the strongest defence against abortion says POPCOM director Juan Antoni A. Perez III.

Taking action

Population Matters’ family planning funding project, PopOffsets has given support to local family planning projects in Manila.

Population Matters believe that access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Worldwide, funding for family planning from foreign aid has been hit hard by the imposition of the ‘global gag rule’ by the Trump administration in January 2017. Find out more, and how you can help.

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PM research shows traffic congestion costs to soar

New analysis released by Population Matters estimates England will face total annual costs of £23.8 billion by 2030 as a result of road and rail congestion caused by surging population. This would mark a 58.7 per cent increase over the £15bn figure for 2015, costing the economy an extra £8.8 billion annually.

The original research commissioned by Population Matters, and featured in an exclusive report in The Times newspaper today, uses statistical data and analytical reports from the UK’s Department for Transport and the latest population projections by the Office of National Statistics to calculate the effect on road and rail traffic. It shows that England’s projected population growth of 10 per cent by 2030 will have a far bigger impact on road and rail congestion than the percentage increase alone suggests.

Among the conclusions of the research are that by 2030:

  • the cost of traffic congestion per household could increase by 40 per cent, translating to a total of £2,100 per year
  • average lateness as a result of rail traffic could increase nationally by 48.2 per cent, and by 103.4 per cent in London
  • road users could waste more than 12 hours per year more – a total of 136 hours – than in 2015 on average, because of traffic congestion
  • number of cars on England’s roads could increase by 20 per cent to 31 million.

The Times‘ environment editor Ben Webster published an exclusive report based on our research, entitled Population boom ‘could bring nation to standstill’

To accompany its report, The Times also published an article by Population Matters patron Chris Packham reacting to the figures and highlighting how human population growth is affecting the natural world in the UK and across the world. In the piece, Chris writes:

“Our natural world is in competition with the unnatural world we create — and it is losing badly. This destructive competition will continue as long as human numbers are growing.

“In the UK we already have the choice of how many children we have. If we want them to enjoy the natural world — to have a thriving, supportive natural world they will need to survive — we have to recognise that the more of them we have, the more difficult it will be for them to do that. We all need breathing room: animals, plants, human beings. We shouldn’t have to compete for it, and we don’t have to.”

(Note: The Times operates behind a paywall and the articles will only be fully visible to subscribers. You can read Chris Packham’s article on our website here.)


Further information about the research and its findings can be found here.

Because rail and road statistics for the entire United Kingdom are compiled separately across devolved administrations, the research focuses on population growth in England but its principle conclusion – that population growth can have far greater effects on congestion than  numbers suggest – applies across the UK. To produce the most effective projections using available data and statistical techniques, the road traffic analysis reflects urban and national “strategic” roads only: the effects of minor road congestion will add additional time and cost. The calculations are based on a number of calculations and assumptions and the results provided are not predictions.

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Family planning under siege?

An intra-uterine device.

A coalition of medical professionals and advocacy groups in the UK has warned that access to contraception is being hit by cuts in funding for public health.

Worldwide, the provision of contraceptive supplies in developing countries is facing a funding shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. Family planning is also thought by many to be at risk from an incoming administration in the US which is hostile to abortion and sceptical about the value of overseas aid. 

The Advisory Group on Contraception says a third of councils in England have cut, or is considering cutting the number of GP practices able to provide methods such as coils and implants and that a quarter of councils have shut or may close some of their contraceptive services.

Contraceptive services are normally financed by local councils but a cut of £200 million in central government funding to councils for public health in 2015/16 has led to a reduction in services available. Further finance cuts are scheduled up until 2021.

Campaigners have warned that the changes risk an increase in unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The global picture

In September, a global coalition of family planning organisations warned that a shortfall of $850 million in funding by 2020 for UNFPA Supplies, the largest global fund dedicated to contraceptive supplies for family planning, could “derail” progress towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals. The funding is needed to help meet the goal of the global FP2020 to provide access to contraception for 120 million more women than in 2012 by 2020. FP2020 has currently delivered services to 30 million women but is not on target to meet its goals.

The UK is one of the most generous supporters of family planning through overseas aid but the USA is the greatest donor, currently providing $600 million annually in aid to support reproductive rights.

During his election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump spoke out against abortion and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has a very strong anti-abortion record in Congress and as governor of Indiana. Concerns have been raised by family planning campaigners that the US may not continue to support overseas aid at the same level under Mr Trump for and that reproductive services may be particularly hard-hit.

Until President Obama reversed the policy in 2009, US aid was not permitted to be given to agencies that provided abortion or information about it. Domestically, concerns over the incoming administration led President Obama to take moves in November to permanently protect funding for abortion and family planning inside the US.

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Boris Johnson: women’s rights address “population boom”

teen_girlIn a major policy speech, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, has highlighted the problems caused by growing population and the impact that foreign aid can have in preventing it.

Mr Johnson’s comments were made in the course of a speech to the prestigious British foreign affairs think tank, Chatham House. Referring to the significant threats to the survival of the African elephant, he noted that that the population of Africa is now nearing 1 billion people, and doubling every 20 to 25 years in some African countries. As Mr Johnson put it, “the massive growth in [human] population . . . means a contest for resources that an elephant is never going to win.”

Mr Johnson described population growth as “another of those things that we thought had got better … 20 or 25 years ago we thought we were turning the tide”. He went on to describe “one answer” to what he called the “population boom”: work funded by the UK’s Department for International Development to teach girls to read in Pakistan, where two thirds of adult women are illiterate.

“It is about giving them the chance to take control of their lives. All evidence confirms that wherever women are empowered and educated there are immediate improvements in the prosperity of that society and the stabilisation of the birth rate.

s216_borisjohnson“And with the world now likely to hit 11 bn people by 2050 – not 9 bn as we thought a decade or so ago, but 11 bn people – that British mission to educate young women and girls, to save them from the evil of modern slavery, to uphold our belief in equality wherever we go is as profoundly in our interests as it is of girls in the developing world.”

Population Matters recently participated in a productive meeting at the UK Department for International Development to discuss the role of family planning and limiting population growth in reducing poverty.

Note. The UN projects a significant range of possible population figures for 2050 to account for the large range of factors involved. Its current median projection is a population of 9.7 bn but that depends on continued falls in fertility and positive action to achieve them.

Study: hitting Sustainable Development Goals will slash population growth

teen_girl_2Last week, before Mr Johnson made his comments, a study from Shanghai University claimed that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030 would mean a global population of between 8.2 and 8.7 billion by 2100, significantly below the UN’s predicted range of 9.5 to 13 billion. The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of agreed global targets for 2030 intended to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure global prosperity.

In a similiar vein to Mr Johnson, one of the study’s authors noted that

“The key factors are the effects of increasing female education on lowering birth rates in developing countries, and the health target that includes universal access to reproductive health services.

“In general we find that if the international community fails to reach the SDGs then growth will be higher, people will be poorer and in worse health, and this larger world population will be more vulnerable to environmental change.”

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Net migration holds steady in UK

crowdEstimates released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics today show that 650,000 people immigrated into the country in the year up to June 2016 and 315,000 left , making the total net migration figure 335,000. The figure is almost exactly the same as the previous year, 336,000.

284,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK (the highest estimate recorded) and 289,000 non-EU citizens. Of those leaving, approximately 127,000 are estimated to be British, 95,000 EU and 83,000 non-EU.

Nicola White, Head of International Migration Statistics at the ONS said:

“Net migration remains around record levels, but it is stable compared with recent years. Immigration levels are now among the highest estimates recorded – the inflow of EU citizens is also at historically high levels and similar to the inflow of non-EU citizens; there were also increases in the number of asylum seekers and refugees. Immigration of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens continues the upward trend seen over the last few years and in 2015 Romania was the most common country of previous residence. The main reason people are coming to the UK is for work, and there has been a significant increase in people looking for work particularly from the EU.”

163,000 people immigrated to study for more than one year. In the year ending in September 2016, there were a little over 41,000 asylum applications and 4,126 people were “granted humanitarian protection under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme” (4,414 in total since the scheme began in January 2014).

In a statement to the media, Population Matters said:

“More people means more pressure on everything, from buses to butterflies. Our birth rate in the UK is higher than most EU countries and net migration in addition means a national challenge of simple numbers. Currently, twice as many people are born in the UK than increase our population through immigration – we need to start facing up to the challenges posed by both of those factors.

“There’s a global environmental challenge too. By default, people emigrating in pursuit of a better life usually end up consuming more and producing more carbon emissions – the same is true of British emigrants, most of whom end up in places such as the US and Australia. Economic development where it’s needed, lower consumption where it isn’t and having smaller families everywhere will reduce the pressures that drive migration and will give our country and our planet some breathing room.”

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30 million more women accessing contraception than in 2012

young_motherThe FP2020 international family planning initiative has released its fourth annual progress report. The global programme seeks to have 120 million more women able to access modern contraception than in 2012.

Now half way through the programme, the picture is mixed. 30 million more women accessing contraception is a significant achievement and globally, more than 300 million women in the world’s poorest countries are now using modern contraception for the first time. However, the 30 million figure is below the target set for this stage of the programme and there are now fears that it may not reach its ultimate goal.

FP2020 seeks to boost family planning through increasing access, improving service, expanding choice, and reducing the barriers to contraceptive use in 69 focus countries. The report highlights, however, that there is a significant funding gap, with aid from developed countries failing to meet the resource needs required.

Donor governments provided US$1.3 billion for bilateral family planning in 2015 but this marked a drop of 6% on previous years’ funding.

Despite this, a number of countries – such as Kenya – are meeting their targets, although the report notes hat there may still be significant disparities in access within countries. At a recent meeting attended by Population Matters to discuss the challenges of getting contraception to women in developing countries, the problem of the “last mile” – actually getting resources in a country into the hands of the women who need them – was identified as one of the problems still to be overcome in some places.

FP2020’s executive director Beth Schlachter said:

“We have the opportunity and the obligation to reach the hardest to reach, including young people, the poorest, the marginalized and the most vulnerable, and to ensure that all programs and policies are grounded in the principles of agency, access, availability, and quality of care. Only by working in this way will we reach our collective goal.”

200 million women worldwide still have an unmet need for contraception.

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Family planning to fight climate change

Professor John Guillebaud, Population Matters patronIn an article for the British Medical Journal, Professor John Guillebaud, our patron, calls for voluntary family planning to minimise and mitigate climate change.

The article, also available here, argues that, “simply put, climate change is caused by excessive production of greenhouse gases. As highlighted by the late Professor Tony McMichael, the ‘cause(s) of the causes’ should not be overlooked. With climate change already close to an irreversible tipping point, urgent action is needed to reduce not only our mean (carbon) footprints but also the ‘number of feet’ — that is, the growing population either already creating large footprints or aspiring to do so.

“Wise and compassionate promotion of contraceptive care and education in a rights-based, culturally appropriate framework offers a cost-effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. This article outlines the evidence for voluntary, accessible family planning as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.”

Professor Guillebaud concludes that:

  • Family planning is preventive medicine and could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single available technology
  • Benignly delivered, family planning reduces greenhouse gas emissions and also conserves habitats
  • The low-carbon benefit of one less birth is greater in affluent settings than in poorer ones
  • Climate-concerned health professionals should therefore promote parental replacement fertility
  • Action on population growth as well as technology and consumption is essential to ensure that climate mayhem is both minimised and mitigated

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Inequality hinders environmental sustainability efforts

Great economic inequality increases environmental harm as well as human suffering

For many years researchers have explored the relationship between income inequality and social development. Recently, however, the inverse correlation between income inequality and environmental sustainability has received greater attention.

Professor James Boyce, for example, has presented the argument that great economic inequality increases environmental harm. He questions why some people are able to impose harms onto others, and argues that this is because those who are harmed are unable to defend themselves. Consequently, there is little that stops the affluent from exploiting the environment in an unsustainable fashion.

To stop this from happening, it is necessary to equip the harmed with the power to defend themselves.

This paper attempts to give both future generations and existing powerless humans a voice. The principle of prudential justification is used to achieve the former, but it will be argued, using empirical findings, that the latter can only be established through a reduction in income inequality.

Once the adverse influence of inequality had been eliminated, humanity would draw the conclusion that population stabilisation is necessary to allow mankind to uphold or improve the current level of well-being.

Population stabilisation, moreover, has in itself a positive effect on the elimination of inequality, as it is a step towards combatting poverty.

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