Family planning is a highly effective and often undervalued global health tool. It is widely recognized that better access to family planning in developing countries generates better health and development outcomes, for both women and children. The data are clear: universal access to voluntary family planning could prevent 79,000 maternal deaths and 600,000 newborn deaths every year. Family planning can have truly exceptional outcomes when combined strategically with better nutrition, greater access and coverage of vaccines, education for girls, and economic empowerment.

In practice, strengthening international family planning programs means allowing women in developing countries to have the same voice and decisionmaking power in planning whether and when to have children that most Americans take for granted, even those who may oppose abortion. In the U.S. context, this reality is a powerfully persuasive argument for the United States standing behind expanded family planning opportunities for women and their families in low-income countries. U.S. support for international family planning does not include abortion, which is prohibited by U.S. law governing foreign assistance.

For several decades, the United States has played a sustained, leading role in expanding access to family planning around the globe, promoting better maternal and child health outcomes, and stronger economic growth and development, all of which contributes to more resilient populations. The United States accounts for close to 45 percent of the bilateral donor investments in family planning.

U.S. contributions have been essential to the significant gains achieved in recent decades. However, for largely domestic political reasons, high-level U.S. leadership on the international stage has been cautious and understated.

There remains much unfinished business to scale up programs, create greater demand for and expand access to commodities and quality services, accelerate integration with other maternal and child health services, and innovate new and cost-effective family planning methods. These face admittedly tough challenges, but in reality they also present compelling opportunities, even more so in recent years. Today we are in the midst of an accelerated international mobilization—captured in the 2012 London summit, which led to the creation of FP2020—that is pressing for expanded commitments to promising partnerships that unite national governments, private companies, donors, civil groups, faith-based organizations, foundations, and international organizations. The next administration has in front of it considerable opportunities to exercise enlarged U.S. leadership and to achieve demonstrable, concrete health gains.