In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family Planning Services and Birth Control

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Family Planning as a Human Right
  • Social and Economic Development
  • Personal and Public Health Issues
  • Population and Environment Issues
  • Effects of Public Health Trends

Public Health Family Planning Services and Birth Control
Jessica Morse, Philip D. Darney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0055


Family planning services and birth control are integral to how families determine the number and timing of their children. The importance of these services is often described from four different perspectives: (1) as a human right; (2) as a means to social and economic development; (3) as a personal and public health issue; and (4) as a population/environment concern. Family planning as a human rights issue is often couched in terms of fundamental human rights to determine one’s own reproductive capacity. It has frequently been linked to a feminist perspective, with control over one’s body as being integral to basic autonomy and equality. Although abortion is an essential part of this, we will not be covering this topic in any detail. (For a more complete understanding, please see the separate article on Abortion.) Especially in the developing world, family planning is closely related to social and economic development, with decreases in family size typically correlating with improved economic and social well-being at both the family and societal level. From a medical standpoint, family planning and birth control are central to women’s basic health care, both as preventive and therapeutic measures. The global burden of maternal mortality would be significantly decreased with provision of comprehensive family planning services, including safe abortion. Given the limited resources of the planet, family planning services and birth control have been championed as effective ways to limit population growth and thereby limit the detrimental impact of overpopulation on the physical environment. The importance of each of these perspectives has waxed and waned through different cultural and political eras, with each offering different justifications for comprehensive family planning services and birth control. Independent of the theoretical background, how family planning services are structured varies broadly. Services typically include counseling and education around reproductive health and family planning, provision of birth control and abortion, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Service delivery can be organized vertically with family planning programs separately administered and provided in specialized clinics or horizontally through integration into other health care. The effectiveness of service provision is often highly dependent on funding, as well as political, cultural, and religious trends. Due to the high personal and public health costs of unintended pregnancies, many efforts have been made to increase access to contraception. Actual method selection should be a patient-driven process, informed by counseling on effectiveness and the patient’s own medical history and risk factors. Public health trends, such as HIV and obesity, influence service provision and method selection at the individual and population level.

General Overviews

Numerous general overviews exist that could provide the layperson or clinician with valuable information. Zieman, et al. 2010 is a user-friendly and thorough resource that is updated regularly and incorporates the most evidence-based data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) has a similar publication (World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins 2011) created for use in the developing world.

  • World Health Organization Department of Reproductive Health and Research, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs. 2011. Family planning: A global handbook for providers (2011 update). Baltimore and Geneva, Switzerland: CCP and WHO.

    This handbook, available in nine languages, is targeted to clinic-based health-care professionals in the developing world. Published by Knowledge for Health (out of Johns Hopkins University) and updated regularly, it provides up-to-date information on family planning services for a global audience.

  • Zieman, M., R. Hatcher, C. Cwiak, P. Darney, M. Creinin, and H. Stosur, eds. 2010. 2010–2012 Managing contraception: For your pocket. 10th ed. Atlanta: Bridging the Gap.

    Now in its tenth edition, Managing contraception is a key resource for clinicians. Made as a small, pocket-sized book, it incorporates the new CDC medical eligibility criteria (MEC) for contraceptive use, as well as sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment guidelines.

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