Family Planning: Godly and Green?

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by Rev. Richard Cizik

Who could have predicted that access to family planning services would become “Topic A” in the race to the White House? Or that a “war on women” would ignite based on contraceptive coverage provided under the health care law approved by Congress and President Obama?

Almost anything can happen in an election year. What’s next, the converging of women’s issues with energy and environmental policy? It could happen. The issues are inextricably linked, even if many currently won’t talk about it.

Speaking on the environment at the World Bank a few years ago, someone in the audience rose to ask me: “Why won’t people of faith address issues of population?” I replied that “We’ve begun to address climate change, and sooner or later, we’ll have to talk honestly about population. But it’s very controversial.” Afterwards someone sent an email to evangelical leaders accusing me of support for “population control,” such as China’s “one-child” policy. Completely false, but it happened.

In the minds of millions of Americans, family planning of any kind equals abortion. Facts however tell a different story: it is the lack of family planning that often leads to abortion.

It’s now time to correct this misunderstanding lest women around the world suffer needlessly. At stake are not just the lives of hundreds of millions of women – it’s the health of the planet itself.

Groundbreaking studies by the Futures Group and the National Center for Atmospheric Research confirm that giving women and girls access to contraception offers our planet a precious co-benefit: a substantial reduction in carbon emissions.

These studies show that when women have the power to plan their families, populations grow more slowly, as do greenhouse gas emissions. Providing modern contraception to all women who want it would reduce essential carbon emissions by 8-15 percent. That’s equivalent to ending all deforestation or increasing the world’s use of wind power 40-fold! Moreover, the cost of providing family services is small compared with other carbon emission reduction strategies – about $3.7 billion annually.

Not surprisingly, the same political conservatives who deny man-made climate change are too often oblivious to the threats posed by the lack of access to contraceptives. Though unexpectedly, even political liberals have largely ignored the issue’s urgency. The result: one in four births worldwide is unplanned, leading to 42 million abortions each year (half of them clandestine) and 68,000 women’s deaths.

God gave the care of the Earth and its inhabitants to our first parents. That responsibility has now passed into our hands. We are not the owners of creation, but its stewards, summoned by God to “watch over and care for it” (Genesis 2:15).

This implies the principle of sustainability: our uses of the Earth must conserve and renew the planet rather than deplete or destroy it. People are included in that protective mantle.

Shouldn’t it be a Christian imperative to help an estimated 125 million women worldwide avoid the social, emotional, and spiritual trauma – and for some, the life-threatening risk – of not having access to family planning?

Making that information, education, and contraception easily available is an effective way to be faithful to God’s commands. By providing this help, we also supply, in effect, a “green technology” that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s an added benefit. Women, particularly in developing nations, face disproportionate risks from climate change – droughts, floods, and mudslides among them. In parts of Africa and Asia, the majority of agricultural workers are female (65% of household food production in Asia and 75% in Africa), so such extreme weather disasters directly affect women’s income, food security, and health. By investing in women’s lives, we strengthen the resilience of our communities and nations against climate change.

What’s good for women – including family planning, education and contraception – is good for the planet.

Richard Cizik is President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He was dubbed “The Green Evangelist” by the New York Times and named in 2008 to the “Time 100” list of influential thinkers. © www.blueridgepress.com 2012.


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