This page offers topic-specific guidance on the use of the Human Rights and Reproductive Health Matrix, created by United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported POLICY Project Human Rights Working Group. To view other aspects of the Matrix, including guidance on other topics, please click on the Matix icon above.

Contraceptive Security

Definition

Contraceptive security means ensuring a secure supply and choice of high-quality contraceptives to meet every person's needs at the right time and in the right place. (UNFPA). Contraceptive security is achieved when all individuals are able to choose, obtain and use contraceptive methods whenever they need or want them. The objective is to help couples and individuals meet their reproductive goals in a framework that promotes optimum health, responsibility and family well being, and respects the dignity of all persons and their right to choose the number, spacing and timing of the birth of their children. (Cairo Programme of Action, 1994, para 7.14)

Links to Reproductive Health

Access to contraception enables couples to avoid unplanned pregnancies and women and adolescents to avoid complications from abortion. According to UNFPA estimates, providing couples with adequate family planning services would prevent 23 million unplanned births, 22 million induced abortions and 142,000 pregnancy-related deaths each year.

Human Rights Implicated

Right to education and information: Education and information will empower individuals to decide to use contraception by making them aware of sexual and reproductive health issues, of the means and correct use of contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies, and of possible adverse effects.

Right to reproductive autonomy: Individuals are entitled to plan the number, timing, and spacing of their children. They need to access family planning services and contraceptives to be able to control their fertility, and access to emergency contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies after unprotected sex or rape.

Rights to non-discrimination and equality: While contraception should be available to men, equal access to contraceptives is critical for women since they bear the burden of pregnancy. The rights to equal protection and to freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, marital or health status are essential for women to be able to choose, obtain and use contraception.

For example, requirements that married women must obtain permission from their husbands to use family planning services is a form of discrimination on the basis of gender and marital status and violates women's right to equality within marriage.

In addition, the right to equality entitles couples and individuals who cannot access contraception and family planning services on their own to receive the assistance of their country in obtaining those.

Rights to liberty and security and to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment: These rights empower individuals to decide what can be done to their bodies and by whom. They protect individuals against coercive measures that affect their physical integrity. Thus, individuals should not be subjected to coercive medical treatment and should give fully informed consent to any medical or surgical procedure.

This means women should not be subjected to coercive contraceptive methods, such as forced abortion, sterilization or the insertion of IUDs without their full and informed consent.

Rights relating to health and life: These rights include the right to life, right to health, right to sexual and reproductive health, and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. They are closely related to family planning services. Access to contraception indirectly ensures the right to life by preventing unintended and sometimes life-threatening pregnancies, and ensures the right to health including sexual and reproductive health. The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress entitles couples and individuals to obtain and use high-quality contraceptives.

Right to privacy and confidentiality: This protects individuals in the provider-patient relationship and ensures high-quality delivery of services. Individuals are more likely to seek family planning services in a setting that respects their privacy and ensures confidentiality.

For example, requirements that women have a certain number of children before being able to obtain sterilization infringes on their privacy. A requirement that a parent or spouse be notified of a women's desire to receive family planning services violates confidentiality.

Relevant Human Rights Documents

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women explicitly commits governments to provide women with the means to decide on the number and spacing of their children, which includes contraception.

The non-binding but highly persuasive consensus statements from the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing) extensively stress women's entitlement to receive family planning services and means, including contraception. In addition, the Cairo Programme of Action urges governments to take steps to achieve a secure and steady supply of contraceptives. Countries should:

  • Assess the extent of national unmet need for good-quality family planning services and its integration in the reproductive health context"
  • Prevent abuses by family planning and contraception providers
  • Identify and remove the barriers to the utilization of family planning services
  • Ensure political leaders encourage and legitimize the use of family planning
  • Allocate to family planning services adequate budgetary, human and administrative resources
  • Establish efficient coordination with other countries, international organizations, as well as NGOs and the private sector. See Cairo Programme of Action, para. 7.12 to7.25.

Key Human Rights Arguments You Could Use

Because human rights entitle couples to receive high-quality contraceptives, countries are required to take the necessary steps to ensure that contraceptives and family planning services are available to all. Human principles thus support and reinforce policy initiatives that promote strong leadership, that establish coordination between governments and the private sector in financing and supplying contraceptives, and that focus especially on those couples and individuals that cannot access contraception on their own.

Questions and comments should be directed to policyinfo@futuresgroup.com.