Last week, a new study out of The Lancet projected that in 2015, 233 million married or in-union women worldwide will have an unmet need for modern family planning.

The bad news: that’s 12 million more women globally since 2010 who want to prevent pregnancy but lack contraception. In fact, without accelerated access to modern methods, the number of women with unmet need in the poorest countries may grow further.

Unmet need itself is nothing new—in 2012, the Guttmacher Institute’s Adding It Up found that 222 million married and unmarried sexually active women in the developing world had an unmet need for modern contraception. Why the difference?

  • Different time periods: The Lancet draws on existing surveys for model-based estimates and short-term projections for the entire period 1990-2015, while Adding It Up drew on recent survey data to project contraceptive use and unmet need to 2012;
  • Different women: The Lancet figures—captured in more detail in the United Nations Population Division’s World Contraceptive Use 2012 update—currently only pertain to married or in-union women whereas Adding It Up captures the needs of both married and unmarried sexually active women; and
  • Different areas: Adding It Up pertains to women in the developing world while The Lancet publication highlights the needs of women globally.

The approaches may not match, but their message is the same:  despite increases in contraceptive prevalence, too many women (hundreds of millions of them!) want to prevent pregnancy but lack access to family planning.

Pledges made at last summer’s London Summit on Family Planning (now known as FP2020) aim to give 120 million more women access to family planning by 2020. Without accelerated access, The Lancet study projects that the absolute number of married or in-union women with unmet need in the 69 poorest countries will increase from 145 million in 2012 to 161 million by 2020. That means more women in the poorest countries who can’t make basic decisions about their bodies and their family size. That shouldn’t happen.

Much work remains for ensuring that FP2020 commitments are realized and the goals are met, and the clock is already ticking. However, resources like The Lancet study help us to better understand possible current and future paths and are crucial in guiding the necessary investments to achieve universal access to family planning.