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  • Eleonora Voltolina

Reproductive rights: being able not to have children… and being able to have them!

The right to family planning, a key element of reproductive and sexual health rights, has been recognised since the late 1960s in both human rights legislation and international declarations. Being able to choose to have an active sex life without the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, having a range of contraceptive method options at one’s disposal – and rejecting the imposition of abstinence as a contraceptive method – is an unquestionable reproductive right.

As the UN states, the right to a private and family life implies the right to make autonomous and private choices on the timing and number of children a person has. Obviously here, timing is mainly understood as a condemnation of teenage and even pre-teenage pregnancies, of child brides – millions of girls around the world who are forced to become mothers far too early. But, as we will see, the importance of being able to choose the ‘time’ to have children can also be considered from another point of view. In any case, crucial to making this choice regarding the timing and number of children possible is the concretisation of the right to reap the benefits of scientific progress; to have access to reproductive health care technologies, including safe and accessible contraceptive methods.

Another unquestionable reproductive right is that of being able to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, in a secure medical setting, without being subjected to psychological abuse, and especially without abortion being considered a crime for those who choose it and for the doctors who carry it out. According to the report 'No Exceptions, No Exclusions: Realising Sexual And Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice For All' published in 2021 by the UN, there are still 700 million women in the world who do not have access to a legal and safe voluntary termination of pregnancy service should they need it.

And to be able to have a child when one wishes, without having to suffer undue pressure at work to postpone this choice? Not having to resign oneself to putting it off for reasons outside one's own will, but finding an ally and favourable cultural conditions in one's own country? Not to be forced to undergo, as happens to a large proportion of women who start trying to have a child after the age of 35 and to most of those who start after 40, fertility treatments that have many side effects and a low success rate? This too should be considered an unquestionable reproductive right.

This is not the case, yet. This is because – especially on an international level, especially in developing countries – the emergency is the opposite: to allow women not to have children, not to have them too early, not to have too many. But looking at the data on birth rates and the average age when the first child is born, it is now and time to realise that instead, in the industrialised countries, the so-called 'first world' countries, the problem lies in the opposite direction. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we start taking action to put this problem on the political agenda, the better.

Unlike other initiatives focusing on combating low birth rates, The Why Wait Agenda has a profoundly secular and pro-choice stance.

As we see it, the right of people to have children, and to have children when they want to have them, without being ostracised and slowed down and without being pressured to postpone having them, is inextricably linked to the two key factors of what are known as reproductive rights: access to contraception and the right to abortion.


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