Letters to the Editor: Empowering women is the best way to reduce childbirth deaths

A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman at a Chicago hospital in 2018.
(Teresa Crawford / Associated Press)

To the editor: While I applaud efforts to reduce global maternal and neonatal deaths, Bjorn Lomborg misses the mark when he states that spending $3 billion per year on emergency obstetric care and family planning would be sufficient to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Certainly, access to emergency obstetric care saves lives. The main problem with Lomborg’s report is that it presumes that increasing access to contraceptives will dramatically increase family planning use, which will in turn result in fewer pregnancies and deaths.

Recent surveys in countries like Nigeria indicate that lacking access to affordable contraception is not the main reason for nonuse. Rather, wanting more children, partner opposition to family planning, concerns about contraception side effects and religious opposition are much more important.


When women are educated and have job opportunities, their desired family size plummets and contraceptive use increases.

Meanwhile, unsafe abortion accounts for about 13% of maternal deaths worldwide, as well as considerable maternal morbidity and sterility.

Ultimately, strategies to increase women’s empowerment and to provide universal health coverage — including safe abortion — are most likely to achieve lasting improvements in maternal health and well-being.

Paula Tavrow, Pasadena

The writer is director of the UCLA Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health.