Family planning is a term that often comes up in relation to abortion, especially in the US where Planned Parenthood is one of the main providers of sexual health, abortion and contraception services. Abortion can be thought of as one aspect of family planning. It is often performed by the same clinics that offer contraception and sexual health services.
The aim of family planning is to enable women to decide if they want to have children, how many children they will have, and when they will have them. Family planning clinics provide women with the knowledge and tools they need to control this. Being able to do this has improved women’s health and reduced maternal mortality rates. For example, having children too early or too close together can be detrimental for women’s health. Family planning has also enabled women to enjoy the careers and lifestyles that they want. It has also allowed people to have smaller families so that they can provide more for the children that they do have.
Providing contraception is one of the main activities of family planning clinics, but they also offer other sexual health services too. Contraception isn’t just about preventing pregnancy. Condoms can also help to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Educating people about the risks of STIs and providing care for anyone who is affected is another important role for sexual health clinics.
Family planning services can cover a wide range of sexual and reproductive health issues, including:
- Sexual health services such as STI testing and treatment
- Contraception advice
- Advice on fertility and getting pregnant
- Support for unplanned pregnancies, including abortion
Abortion can play an important role in family planning because it isn’t always possible to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. There is no form of contraception that can provide complete protection. The most reliable options (such as the IUD) are more than 99% effective, but some women will still get pregnant while using them.
An unplanned pregnancy can sometimes be a pleasant surprise, or it can be enough to make you adjust your plans and decide to have a child now. Although family planning can help us to decide when we want to have children, we don’t always have to stick to those plans. If your contraception fails and you get pregnant, you might decide to change your plans and start or add to your family a little sooner than expected.
However, it isn’t always possible to continue with the pregnancy. Some women may decide to have an abortion instead. The reasons for doing this are very personal and they are often complex, but they may include:
- Not being in a stable family or financial situation
- Concerns about the impact on education or career
- Feeling unable to provide the best home for a child
- Anxiety or other emotional issues
- Needing to focus on other children or dependent family members
Having the option of ending the pregnancy can enable women to retain control of their bodies. It can ensure that you are able to protect your mental, social and physical wellbeing if you accidentally get pregnant.
However, abortion isn’t just part of family planning. It is also a medical procedure that may be needed for other reasons. Women don’t just have abortions when they aren’t ready or able to add to their families. Terminations can also be necessary for medical reasons, such as:
- To save the mother’s life if she is experiencing severe pregnancy complications or has another medical issue
- To enable the mother to take medication or have another treatment that isn’t possible while she is pregnant (e.g. chemotherapy to treat cancer)
- If there is a fatal foetal abnormality and the woman feels it is best to end the pregnancy safely rather than to risk a miscarriage or stillbirth
- If there is a serious foetal abnormality that will affect the child’s mental or physical wellbeing
How These Services Work Together?
Family planning and abortion services are very closely connected. Both can play a vital role in enabling women to control when and if they have children. While family planning services prioritise the prevention of unplanned pregnancies, they will also be there to help if you do get pregnant unexpectedly.
The close relationship between family planning and abortion is apparent from the fact that they are often provided by the same clinics. Women can visit the same clinics to get advice on contraception, have an IUD fitted, get tested for STIs, or to seek unbiased advice on abortion. Family planning and abortion clinics are there to support women in making their own choices about having children. You will never be pressured into making a particular decision when you visit one of these clinics. Instead, you will be given the information you need to make the best choices for yourself.
Even though contraception advice and pregnancy terminations are often performed at the same clinics, family planning services actually help to reduce the need for abortions. The abortion rates are much higher in countries that lack good family planning and abortion services. The WHO estimates that there are still 214 million women around the world who are unable contraception despite wanting to prevent pregnancy. These women are at risk of unwanted and potentially risky pregnancies and could also put themselves at risk through unsafe or illegal abortions if they do become pregnant.
Although contraception can reduce the abortion rate, it can’t prevent all unplanned pregnancies. Abortion plays an important role in family planning because it is there to provide a safety net when contraception fails. It also allows women to remain in control of their fertility even if they have made a mistake, such as forgetting to take their pill, or not using contraception.
Being able to decide if and when you have children is important. Family planning and contraception advice services can enable you to understand your own body and to take control of your fertility. The clinics can provide advice, different forms of contraception, and abortion services in order to help you to make the right choices about your body.