Family Planning in Britain

Series on Health
April 1972

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Arguments in favour of family planning or 'birth control' can be advanced on the basis of one (or both) of two major premises. First, it may be held that overpopulation is the major problem facing the world today. Second, it may be held that family planning is justified primarily in terms of improvement in the quality of life of individuals and families who are able to use modem contraceptive techniques to choose for themselves if and when they want a child. Incidental to this is any saving to public funds that would follow from preventing unwanted births.

This paper has confined its attention to Britain alone because a review of the world situation would have been wholly inappropriate to a paper of this length. In doing so it has concentrated mainly on the latter 'quality of family life' approach. This is, once again, because the issues involved in defining an 'optimum population' for Britain in objective terms are beyond the scope of a comparatively brief paper such as this. Furthermore, any attempt to forecast the effect of more widespread contraception on fertility rates in an advanced country is fraught with difficulties and on past evidence of population projections is almost certain to be wrong. It is only in the developing countries that the case for family planning rests most obviously on the need for population control.

On the other hand there are real and tangible benefits in Britain to families and the taxpayer from the prevention of unwanted births which can be described if not always quantified. If decisions on further public involvement in family planning are to be taken in the near future, this paper assumes it must be these considerations which will form the platform for action.