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Freedom to decide #7

It is traditionally our core business: research and advice in the field of contraception. And there are naturally historical reasons for this. Reason which we consider topical to this very day. Rutgers feels that everyone should have freedom of choice on matters concerning their own bodies, pregnancy and family planning. And everyone has to have access to contraceptives if they are to make a suitable choice in this regard. This applies both in the Netherlands and in the rest of the world.

In the Netherlands, we take this more or less for granted. Unplanned pregnancies and teenage pregnancy nevertheless still occur here. Furthermore, the recent influx of refugees in Dutch society has rendered it a topical issue once more. And a glance beyond our own borders reveals that there is still a world to be won in this respect.

Every year there are over 74 million unplanned pregnancies, 40 million abortions and 10 million miscarriages worldwide. And every two minutes, a woman dies as a result of complications during pregnancy or delivery, or following an (unsafe) abortion.

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Campaign

We launched the striking online Happy Birth Control campaign in 2016, with a view to keeping family planning high on the political agenda. The hashtag ‘#HappyBirthControl’ is designed to remind a large number of national governments of the agreements they concluded: at least 120 million more women using contraceptives by the year 2020, and the entire global population should have free access to healthcare in the area of pregnancy and childbirth by the year 2030.

Increased public attention to issues helps keep governments on their toes. Check out #Happybirthcontrol on Twitter and Facebook to find out what you yourself can do. Learn more about the global agreements made with regard to family planning at Countdown 2030.

The #Happybirthcontrol campaign has already achieved some 270,000 views. It attracted 6,500 likes on Facebook alone.

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Pregnant girl (Credits: iStock)
Pregnant girl (Credits: iStock)

Teenage pregnancy

The incidence of teenage pregnancy in the Netherlands is on the decline. There are nevertheless groups which face an increased risk: girls who live in unstable domestic situations, or have an intellectual disability or a low level of education. Rutgers carried out research into the underlying factors in 2016. Our reports entitled ‘In één klap volwassen’ (An adult in one fell swoop) and ‘Gewoon gezellig, met zo’n buik’ (Great fun, such a big belly) chart these factors on the basis of interviews held with girls themselves. This sort of information is useful to social workers in providing more useful assistance and means of prevention.

Vlogs and games

These studies were carried out as part of the ‘Impulsproject Preventie Ongewenste Tienerzwangerschappen’ (Impulse Project on Prevention of Unwanted Teenage Pregnancy) abbreviated as IPOT. This is a joint project run by Rutgers, the Fiom Foundation and STI AIDS Netherlands. Its findings were used to produce a Britt talk about contraceptives featuring Dutch vlogger Britt Scholte in 2016. New videos about teenage pregnancy and teenage parenthood were also added to the online game Can You Fix It (Dutch).

going forward

We shall continue to produce further products and interventions in the field of teenage pregnancy throughout 2017 and 2018. These will include improved public information about contraception and postponing parenthood on websites such as Sense.info, modification of the learning modules contained in the Long Live Love curriculum, and an online decision aid for cases of unintended pregnancy.

The UN ‘human rights examination’

The United Nations Human Rights Council regularly examines the human rights records of member states. In 2016, it was Uganda’s turn to be assessed, while preparatory measures were taken to do so in Indonesia and the Netherlands. This Universal Periodic Review is also Rutgers’ cue to assess the situation in terms of family planning and sexual health.

In Uganda’s case, Rutgers made a number of solid recommendations: including the urgent request that the Ugandan government finally take tangible measures to provide sexuality education in schools.

Projects in Uganda

There is also further news from Uganda. Rutgers is actively participating with the Nefkens Foundation for Development Aid in providing both contraceptives and information there. This Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) targets thousands of young people living in rural areas.
The new education project You Decide (in collaboration with the Dioraphte Foundation) also focuses on providing information about contraception to both young people and adults in their environment who are trusted.

Within a period of eighteen months, the YEP succeeded in addressing queries raised by some 22,000 young people in rural areas of Uganda, with regard to testing, counselling and contraception.

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Woman unwrapping a female condom (Credits: Ryan W. Daniels)
Woman unwrapping a female condom (Credits: Ryan W. Daniels)

Reaching the Climax

The highly successful Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) programme concluded in 2016. A booklet entitled Reaching the Climax was published, which describes the highlights of the project. Thanks to collaboration with Oxfam Novib and i+solutions, Rutgers has succeeded in considerably increasing the familiarity, availability and affordability of female condoms in developing countries.

Abortion in the Netherlands

Rutgers analyses the registration figures of Dutch abortion clinics every two years. In 2016, it therefore published its assessment of the year 2014 (Dutch). Just over 30,000 abortions (including early abortions) were recorded during the year. 12.4% of these involved women who had travelled to the Netherlands from abroad. The number of abortions among women resident in the Netherlands actually declined slightly in relation to 2013. Incidentally, the number of abortions performed in the Netherlands has been more or less stable since 2002: approximately 8.5 in every 1,000 women of childbearing age have an abortion. While the majority of this group comprises teenagers and young women, their numbers are nevertheless gradually declining.

Call for self-determination

In the run up to the general elections in the Netherlands, the country’s Christian political parties once again placed abortion on agenda. Rutgers therefore participated in debates on the topic. We presented the facts about abortion, while calling for women’s self-determination and the right to abortion. For many women, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not one that is taken lightly, and there are often numerous reasons that play a decisive role in opting for an abortion. In addition, we consider it vital that investments be made in abortion prevention, and in the provision of accurate information and (low-threshold) access to contraception.

going forward

Rutgers does not support the proposal announced by Mrs Schippers (Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport) to oblige GPs to apply for an additional permit to prescribe the abortion pill, a form of early abortion. Rutgers strongly feels that early abortions should not be governed by criminal law, and that such means should remain available from GPs.

“To some women, their general practitioner is a competent and reliable partner. The GP offers medical assistance in the event of a miscarriage or following an abortion, while he or she has expertise both in the area of the choice of contraceptives and counselling in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.’’

Ineke van der Vlugt (Programme coördinator at Rutgers)

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