This post, written by Elizabeth Futrell, originally appeared on the K4Health blog and can be accessed here.

© 2003 Ansem Ansari, Courtesy of Photoshare

I was overjoyed to give birth to my first baby—a girl—earlier this year. Before becoming a mother at age 32, I graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and married a fellow volunteer.  I traveled the world, living and working on three continents. I changed careers. I volunteered as a prison tutor, an advocate for people living with AIDS, a financial literacy mentor for low-income women, an editor of a quarterly literary publication, and an auxiliary board member of Heshima Kenya.

Without contraception, my life likely would have been quite different. In fact, while I now have a baby, several of my childhood friends have teenaged children. My junior year in high school, nine of my friends or acquaintances were pregnant. Several more miscarried or had abortions. I was raised Catholic in a middle-class American suburb, and my weekly teen group taught us that abstinence was our only contraceptive option. By the time we finished high school, 2 of the 12 members of our group had given birth. 

 Though U.S. teen pregnancy rates have dropped in recent years, access to quality reproductive health and family planning information and services for young women is still a pressing issue in America and around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 16 million girls, ages 15-19 give birth every year; 95 percent of these births occur in developing countries. Interestingly, WHO reports that seven countries account for half of all adolescent births: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, and the United States.

Unlike my high school friends, who generally received prenatal services and gave birth in hospitals under the care of obstetricians, many adolescent mothers in developing countries receive little or no prenatal care and give birth without the presence of a skilled birth attendant. As a result, many of these young women face debilitating but preventable conditions such as obstetric fistula, uterine rupture, or even death. Like my high school friends, they are less likely to finish school and to have economic opportunities than their peers who have not given birth during adolescence.

World Contraception Day, which falls each year on September 26, is a global campaign with a vision for a world where every pregnancy is wanted. Its mission is to raise awareness of contraception so that young people can make informed sexual and reproductive health decisions.

Contraception saves lives. It also changes lives. When girls and women are able to choose with their partners when and how often they have children, their educational path lengthens, their economic opportunities strengthen, and their capacity to become active, dedicated citizens of their communities, and the world, soars. The benefits of a woman’s access to family planning reach far beyond her and her family; there is no limit to the good a woman can do in the world when her potential is unleashed. For proof, visit Women Deliver’s list of the 100 most inspiring people delivering for girls and women.  

To learn more about contraceptive options, please visit the K4Health Toolkits.