International Conference on Family Planning

Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
International Conference on Family Planning
African Union Conference Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Thank you, Oying. Good afternoon, and welcome once again to the International Conference on Family Planning. I am delighted to be joining you here, representing Johns Hopkins University.

I want to start by recognizing the Ethiopian government, which has not only demonstrated extraordinary hospitality in hosting this international event, but which also stands out as an exemplar in this policy field.

Of course, I also want to thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting life-saving family planning efforts around the world, and, closer to home, for supporting the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins, the co-host for this event.

The distinguished line-up of speakers for this afternoon’s session is powerful testament to the critical importance of this work – including His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister of Ethiopia … and Her Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission.

I am honored to join Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund … Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Ethiopia’s minister of health … the Honorable Patricia Haslach, the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia … Dr. Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation … and Dr. Catherine Bonga Baye, the delegate representing the youth sector.

Of course, I am also delighted to join the esteemed attendees of this conference, who work tirelessly to ensure full access and full choice.

I know today is about the future of family planning, but I am hoping that you will indulge me for a few moments of time travel.

I want to take you back to Baltimore, 1927. It was a time when Johns Hopkins obstetricians were worried about the effects of frequent childbearing on their female patients. Contraception was considered controversial, and families and physicians were drastically hemmed in by both prevailing law and social mores.

But in November of that year – 86 years ago this month – a small group of concerned citizens and Johns Hopkins physicians quietly opened the Bureau for Contraceptive Advice in a narrow house near our hospital. The medical director was Dr. Bessie Moses, the first woman obstetrical intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and an impassioned advocate for family planning.

Now, admittedly, though it was the first such clinic in the state, the Bureau did not break open the floodgates of reproductive health. Established hospitals – including Johns Hopkins – were wary of housing these activities in their facilities, and patients were largely restricted to married women referred by their physicians.

But in the clinic’s first five years, Dr. Moses collected data on more than 1,000 patients, later publishing a landmark study that provided dispositive scientific evidence of the benefits of birth control.

Over the next four decades, as the clinic and the national discussion around reproductive health evolved in the U.S., Dr. Moses remained ever in the vanguard of her field, using her formidable experience and expertise to lobby before Congress, expand services and train the next generation of practitioners.

On the day she died in 1965, our School of Public Health received a $700,000 grant from the federal government to advance studies of birth control.

I mention this story here – 7,000 miles and 86 years removed – because I believe it echoes in this gathering today.

This conference and the issues it raises stand as a clarion call to the Academy to be true to its roots, to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Moses and her peers, and to use evidence and compassion to illuminate best practice.

Today, our academic researchers vigorously continue to hold a mirror up to family-planning practices and interventions to determine whether they are justifiable against science, data and human rights. This is true whether investigators are working in Botswana, Bangladesh or the neighborhoods of Baltimore.

There is no country exempt from the concerns of family planning, and no nation where science and evidence cannot add value to policy and practice.

In the U.S., our recent history shows that the vicissitudes of funding and shifting political winds cannot help but disrupt research over time, and impair, needlessly and often tragically, societal welfare.

As in many parts of the world, family planning has too often been suffused with baseless ideology, despite the avalanche of rigorous evidence on the efficacy of certain practices. We know well that the task of designing and delivering sound family planning policy is not easy – but neither should it be controversial.

At the end of the day, I know the yeoman’s work in family planning is undertaken by tireless community health workers, scrappy nonprofits and stalwart government leaders. Many of you are here today. I am delighted that Johns Hopkins can follow in the tradition that Dr. Moses began, to stand by the side of these courageous individuals as we address the still gaping unmet needs in family planning.

Thank you, once again, for being here at this conference, and for all of the work you do.

Johns Hopkins is humbled and privileged to be able to play a small part in your great cause.