As 2019 ends and we embark on a new decade, I’ve been reflecting on the life-changing experience for poor women and adolescent girls when they access contraception for the first time. As one of the largest providers of contraception and safe abortion services, MSI works in 37 countries and has helped millions of women to transform their lives. We have also overcome major obstacles to keep serving the clients who need us most.
As President of MSI United States, I’m privileged to play an active role in advancing reproductive rights and enlarging people’s freedoms. I work for an organization that brings contraception and safe abortion care to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these essential services. Our work helps adolescents to finish school, enables our clients to earn a living and take better care of themselves and their families; our work helps families and countries tackle poverty and build climate-resilient communities.
We work tirelessly to remove the many barriers our clients face in accessing contraception or avoiding an unsafe abortion. From busting abortion stigma to fighting myths about contraception and continuing to reach poor clients whose access to services has been further restricted by the Global Gag Rule, I’m proud of our unshaken commitment to our clients and our significant contributions to people’s reproductive health and rights.
The end of 2019 marks the first full year that MSI has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2018, almost 90% of Congolese women had no access to modern methods of contraception. This year we’ve already had a measurable impact: in 2019, we served some 20,000 clients, many of whom are first-time users of contraception.
I’m also proud of our MS Ladies, who this year reached a record-breaking 640,000 clients. MS Ladies are dedicated nurses and midwives, united by a desire to help people in their communities access contraception. These extraordinary women (and a few men) go door-to-door in countries across Africa and Asia — over remote and often dangerous terrain — to provide discreet support for clients in homes and communities. Their work is particularly important in isolated areas and communities where women, girls or other marginalized people do not feel comfortable visiting traditional clinics because of the stigma associated with sex and reproduction.
In 2019 we marked the 20th anniversary of our program in Mexico and 25th anniversary of our program in Bolivia. Nurses like Rosalia from Bolivia and Barbara from Mexico travel to remote communities every day, providing contraception to people who would otherwise have no access. They work among the most vulnerable populations, tailoring their messages and their services to the needs of the people they visit. The work they do is crucial to fighting myths and misconceptions about contraception and safe abortion.
A few months ago, we released the results of a survey that asked 2,000 women around the world about their experiences of having an abortion at one of our centers. Their responses provide a unique insight into what people face every day in accessing abortion care worldwide. People seek to end an unplanned pregnancy frequently. Yet almost a quarter of respondents in our survey reported that they were stigmatized for their decision to end a pregnancy, and single women were five times more likely to experience stigma than married women.
As we head into 2020, we know that reproductive choice is threatened in many places. Here in the United States, where many states are restricting or trying to ban abortion, poor people will pay the highest price since money has always made safe abortion access possible. The Supreme Court will hear a case that could force clinics to close. We know what happens when abortion is restricted: people resort to unsafe methods and put their lives at risk, and unscrupulous providers profit.
As we embark on a new year and a new decade, MSI will continue to work tirelessly for our clients. We will stand up for them, fight stigma and work to enlarge their access to safe services. Women, girls and people with disabilities often face bigger obstacles and enjoy fewer rights so we will pay special attention to ensure they make their own decisions about their bodies, their lives and their futures.
Thank you for standing with us!