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Humanists at the UN have stressed the role of contraception in not only enabling family planning and lowering the rate of sexually transmitted infections, but also in reducing the number of women dying in childbirth or during pregnancy.

The UN Human Rights Council has now adopted our recommendations, encouraging access to health services which stand to save 100,000 lives per year.

On 27 September 2012, the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council adopted without a vote a resolution on preventable maternal mortality which called on all States to:

“…renew their political commitment to eliminate preventable maternal mortality and morbidity … including through the allocation of necessary domestic resources to health systems and the provision of the necessary information and health services addressing the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.” (emphasis added)

The addition of the reference to sexual and reproductive health services (or family planning) comes after intensive lobbying by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) at the UN Human Rights Council. In support, IHEU cited a report published in the Lancet in July 2012 showing that in 172 countries surveyed, the use of contraception was averting 272,000 maternal deaths per year, and that by eliminating the unmet need for contraception a further 100,000 lives could be saved per year.

The resolution coincided with the publication of a joint report by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, UNFPA and WHO, on the human rights-based approach to the reduction of preventable maternal morbidity and mortality (PDF) which, in the words of UNFPA Executive Director  Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, “brings family planning back centre stage”.

IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx said, “I’m proud to say that lobbying by our IHEU delegation helped make this possible and I want to thank all in Geneva for their work on this issue. It shows that the Human Rights Council can be a place of mature debate and policy formation, and we urge Member States to listen and take action on this enlightened resolution.”

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