While the Senate works out the kinks in the abortion bill, authorities on sexual and reproductive health continue to push for policy changes around the world. Sixteen researchers from the Guttmacher-Lancet Institute (including two representatives from the World Health Organization) convened Wednesday to present a report at the Congress building in Buenos Aires. Because what better place to discuss reproductive rights than a country with landmark legislation hanging in balance?
The specialists outlined a plan for a canasta básica, or a basic basket used as a baseline to assure everyone has access to basic needs, which includes nine essential sexual and reproductive health services. Contents of the “basket” were chosen based on data from 2016 statistics that were written into a report published last May called “Accelerating Progress” and would ring up a cost of US $9 per person annually.
What’s in the basket?
- Comprehensive sexual education
- Consultation and services to access modern contraceptives
- Prenatal and postnatal care, including emergency obstetric and neonatal care
- Safe abortion services and awareness about the complications of unsafe abortion
- Prevention and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections
- Prevention, detection, and victim services for sexual violence and violence against women
- Prevention, detection, and management of reproductive cancers
- Information, consultation and services for infertility
- Information and services related to sexual health and wellbeing
Evolution of terminology
In addition to laying out the nine necessary components of a “basic basket” for sexual and reproductive health, the Guttmacher-Lancet report also expanded the definition of this health, thereby allowing policy goals to be adjusted accordingly.
The May 2017 report reads that sexual and reproductive health is: “a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing that relate to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, not simply the absence of illness, functionality or ailments.” It enumerates several rights that are integral to sexual health: personal autonomy; defining one’s sexual orientation and gender expression; deciding whether and when to be sexually active; choosing sexual partners; having safe and pleasurable sexual experiences; deciding if, when, and whom to marry; deciding if, when, how, and how many children to have; having access to information, resources, services, and support necessary to achieve these goals free from discrimination, coercion, exploitation, and violence.
Worth the price?
“Decades of research demonstrates the benefits of investing in sexual and reproductive health. Through numerous international agreements, governments have committed to that investment,” the commission stated, according to La Nación. “Weak political commitment, inadequate resources, persistent discrimination against women and girls, as well as a lack of will to tackle issues related to sexuality in an open and comprehensive way, have held back progress on those commitments.”
That has resulted in a lack of contraceptive access, STI treatment, comprehensive sex-ed, and adequate prenatal care. “Almost all people of reproductive age (15 to 19 years old) lack at least one essential reproductive or sexual health service,” affirmed the commission. In this context, the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission proposed that governments provide universal coverage for those nine vital services.
Susheela Singh, vice president of international research for the Guttmacher Institute, told La Nación, “addressing to need for contraception, abortion, and maternal and infant care in developing countries would cost nine dollars per person per year, which is an accessible investment. [Those countries] should determine their short-term priorities and make institutional reform to advance their future development.”
Mabel Bianco, president of FEIM (Foundation for the Study and Research of Women), agreed that US $9 per person annually was reasonable investment, because, “it is very important in a country where health care is still so fragmented, and because of that, we are spending much more resources than necessary.” She explained that, “in our country it is already much more expensive, because the same services are all provided by different sectors, so there is an overlap in services without an increase in efficacy.”
The world is watching
Singh affirmed: “When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, Argentina has always been a leader in the region.”
How do we navigate this unique position of being a regional vanguard for women’s issues, while also working within increasing fiscal restraint and political turmoil? Although Congress may not take up the suggestions from the Guttmacher Institute, the report offers an opportunity to assess governmental priorities. Whether or not we realize it, the ever-present debate about the legalization of abortion in Argentina has opened the doors for a broader, multi-faceted discussion on the future of sexual and reproductive health in the country.