WASHINGTON — Access to birth control - and choice of methods - has improved throughout the world since the early 1980s, says a new study by a population research group.
On average, between two and three methods of birth control are now widely available in developing countries, compared with fewer than two methods in 1982, says Washington-based Population Action International (PAI).
"US foreign aid has played a key role in the expansion of contraceptive choices," says Shanti Conly, editor of the report.
In 1995, the US and the United Nations Population Fund accounted for more than half the cost of contraceptives donated to developing countries. Cuts in US funding for international family planning could jeopardize the gains nations have made, PAI warns.
The Clinton administration has requested $400 million in family-planning money for the next budget, a decrease from 1995 but an increase over this year's budget. In recent Congresses, anti-abortion forces have reined in US spending on international family planning.
The report says access to contraception rose fastest in Africa, because the baseline was so low; Africa still lags far behind the rest of the world. Still, Tunisia, Botswana, Kenya, and Namibia all showed a marked increase in choice and availability of contraception.
Today, more than half of all couples in the developing world practice birth control, compared with 1 in 10 couples in the '60s. Average family size in these countries decreased from six children to between three and four.
But the contraception needs of more than 100 million married women in the developing world are going unmet, according to PAI.
Other points from the report:
* Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland got "perfect" scores on access to all six methods of contraception studied - condoms, oral contraceptives, intra-uterine devices (IUDs), injectable contraceptives, female sterilization, and vasectomy.
* The United States lagged in access to IUDs, due to concerns over possible lawsuits.
* In Russia, Kazakstan, and Ukraine, abortion rates have declined as contraceptive services have expanded. The same holds true for Chile, Colombia, Hungary, and South Korea.
* Condoms are the most accessible method worldwide, but female sterilization remains the most widely used.