Approximately half a million women in developing countries die each year as a result of complications during pregnancy. Sadly, illegal abortion is one of the five major causes of these deaths. International data suggest that maternal mortality is decreasing in regions where the use of family planning is increasing because of the consequent avoidance of unwanted pregnancies, although accurate data on maternal mortality are difficult to obtain in most developing countries. Use of family planning to delay first births and to increase interpregnancy intervals has the potential to decrease infant mortality by at least 20%. Data from developing countries show that some of this potential has already been realized during the past 20 years, but additional improvement is possible. In countries where maternal mortality is low, women may avoid using contraceptives because of the perceived dangers of the most effective methods. Recent analyses show that cardiovascular risks associated with oral contraceptives are low, and that the net effect of oral contraceptives on cancer of the ovary and endometrium is one of protection. While there remain unanswered questions regarding cervical and breast cancer, the net effect is small at worst.