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Melinda Gates is missing the point about contraception in the developing world

Expensive birth control programmes come with an agenda

By on Thursday, 26 April 2012

Melinda Gates is critical of Church teaching on contraception (AP photo)

Melinda Gates is critical of Church teaching on contraception (AP photo)

It is always a disappointment when a public figure of great wealth, standing or power explains that although they are loyal Catholics they think Church teaching is wrong – predictably on moral matters. It often seems to happen in America. The Kennedy clan led the way, followed by prominent figures like Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, and Kathleen Sebelius, current Secretary for Health and Human Services, who is “staunchly pro-choice” – and who has been publicly reprimanded by Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Now, according to a report by Timothy Herrmann, issued by C-FAM, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute run by Austin Ruse, it is billionaire Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who, as a professed Catholic, is at odds with the Church. She is running a multi-billion dollar new “No Controversy” campaign to reinforce universal access to birth control in the developing world. Speaking at a conference in Berlin, she has argued that contraception has been mistakenly associated with population control, abortion, forced sterilisation and insists they are “side issues” that “have attached themselves to the core idea that men and women should be able to decide when to have a child”.

Of course men and women should be able to decide their family’s size for themselves – in accordance with their human dignity, as the Church teaches. But when they are poor and live in the Third World, and expensive aid programmes run by First World countries are pushed at them on certain conditions, it is easy for “coercive modes” to start to take over in order to fulfil the desired target of lowered populations. Melinda Gates seems to have missed this obvious point. Yet in their annual Letter for 2012 the Gates Foundations draws a direct connection between “unsustainable” population growth and poverty, and sees contraception as an essential tool in ensuring that “populations in countries like Nigeria will grow significantly less than projected”. Aid comes with an explicit agenda. There’s no getting away from the controversy surrounding it.

According to the C-FAM report Mrs Gates is especially critical of the Catholic Church and singles out Catholic social teaching as an obstacle to access to contraception throughout the world. She states that even as a “practising Catholic” and “in the tradition of the great Catholic scholars” it is important “to question received teachings”, in particular “the one saying that birth control is a sin”. One wonders which “great Catholic scholars” she has in mind.

Looking up the Gates Foundation website, I read that, among many undoubted good works, such as its campaign to eliminate malaria throughout the Third World, “We also work on integrated health solutions for family planning”. The website continues, “We’re working to expand the types of contraceptive choices that will meet the needs of people in the developing countries… We’re funding specific efforts to identify new contraceptives and increase the number of scientists specialising in contraceptive development.”

A horrid image comes to mind, of white-coated boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their conjugal dignity, their culture and their traditions. There must be better ways of spending billions of dollars.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    Do you really think that women in the poorest countries should not have the freedom to choose whether or not to use contraception? A mother of a large family who is too poor to support any more children hardly has “conjugal dignity” if she must abstain from all sexual relations with her husband.

  • ms Catholic state

    Those who hand out contraceptives like sweeties have a malign intention and a hatred of humanity and new human beings.  Basically they are telling you…..your children are not wanted!!  We don’t want the likes of you and yours on the planet…we don’t want your genetic survival.  But they pretend it is all for your benefit!

    And it is not only in the 3rd world where the ‘great and the good’ hand out contraceptives in order to achieve some genocidal type goal….but also in the West where our governments etc seem to despise and loathe their own people and their children.  Ignore their evil offerings and listen to the Church who has the best interests of all humanity at heart.  Sorry Ms Gates….but between you and the Pope…I trust the Pope. You are doing the biddings of those who hate humantiy and that hatred has only one source….and that is in the pits of Hell.

  • Simon Ho

    That’s the wrong question to ask.  Contraceptive devices demean the human sexual act.  No one, therefore, has the right to violate another person’s human dignity by encouraging the use of such dehumanising devices.

    Patrick probably doesn’t understand the difficulties of the woman in such a situation in Africa – if they could abstain from all sexual relations with her husband, then they would have no problems practising Natural Family Planning.  The challenge is to educate the husbands to respect their wives and their bodies – unfortunately, only the Catholic Church is attempting to do this difficult task in witnessing to authentic dignity of men and women.

  • karlf

    From one ejaculation only one sperm out of around 200 million is used in the conception of a child. God planned to waste around 99.999999% of them anyway.

  • ms Catholic state

    Sperm is not a human being….so it doesn’t matter.  Only when fused with an egg at conception does it become a human being ….and then it matters.

  • Acleron

    And then, according to your lot, your god wastes most of those as well.

  • Acleron

    Don’t worry too much about it, your mobile moral suite will eventually join the rest of the human race. 

    Please try not to cause too much damage while you are catching up.

  • Recusant

    Do you think they are not choosing already? It is such arrogance to think that poor Africans are unwitting naifs who – *ooops* – are accidentally afflicted by another child. Poor people are economic actors like anyone else and where each child is labour, a pension and old-age care rolled into one (as well as a complete blessing), why wouldn’t they choose to have large families?

    People choose to have smaller families when they have other things to fill their time – postgraduate study, or careers or sporting opportunities. Fix those things if you want smaller families.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    I wonder if Simon Ho is celibate, because it did not occur to him that women do not want to abstain permanently from sex with their husbands.

    Anyone with experience of sex, unlike all the Popes, bishops and most theologians, knows that God gave us sex primarily for pleasure, and in doing this increased the unity between two people in a committed relationship. Less than 3% of human sexual intercourse naturally results in a conception, and since 100% of sex acts give great pleasure it is silly to argue that what is a comparatively rare side effect is the primary purpose of sex.

  • Greg

     The problem with the church’s opposition to population control is that its has focused only on the contraception strategy of popcon. The more subtle and insidious ways of population control are the disparaging of marriage, the psychological castration of men, the butchifying of women, both of which eliminate physical attraction and therefore discourages marriage, and the promotion of the gay lifestyle. Courage would mean taking these on as well.

  • JByrne24

    Does FRANCIS PHILLIPS not know that in the UK and all other developed countries (Europe, USA, Canada, Australasia ….etc) some 97% of married CATHOLIC women practise (“artificial” as she would no doubt call it) contraception. 

    So too do the vast majority of unmarried Catholic women.

    To deny it to women in the developing world is madness.

  • JByrne24

    The claim that a zygote is a Human Being is utterly ridiculous.
    St. Thomas Aquinas held that a Human Being with a Soul emerged months after conception. 

  • Oconnord

    “the psychological castration of men, the butchifying of women,”
    Wow you must have really crashed and burned when you asked her out!
    Never mind if she said no to you she must have been a lesbian.

  • Speransgaudebo

    Why do white do-gooders worry so much about the number of dark-skinned people in the world?  It’s an obsession with them.

  • Simon Ho

    Perhaps I could have emphasised the “if” and “then” in my earlier reply to help anyone avoid missing my point.  Like good teachers, let me help by asking another question: “If a couple practices Natural Family Planning, why would they need to abstain from sex permanently?”

    As a Catholic, I affirm that the sexual act has both the unitive and procreative purposes (there might, perhaps, still be others).  Neither is more important than the other, and one cannot really be understood in the exclusion of the other. 

    Pleasure, you would notice, isn’t really part of the purpose – it is a good and holy thing within the context of a couple’s intimacy (i.e. when the pleasure arises relationally as part of one’s self-giving to the other), but it is not an end in itself.  I don’t know, but if pleasure is the purpose of sex, wouldn’t that turn the other party into an object at the disposal of one’s pleasure?  What would the difference be between a spouse and a prostitute then, and does pleasure with a prostitute increase the bonds of unity with the prostitute? 

    And what about the many people who do not find sex entirely pleasurable, due to anxiety or other physical reasons?  Should they abstain from sexual intimacy in marriage simply because of that?  My answer is no, but this is beyond the nature of a comment in a blog.

    So in this case, I have serious disagreements with your position.

  • Simon Ho

    Is the unspoken assumption in this post that women in developed countries are more enlightened than women in developing countries, or that their lifestyle should be exported to developing countries?

    But I don’t see the logic of the post in any case.  A professor (an elderly British genleman teaching in an American University) used to say “When the majority is insane, the sane goes to the mental hospital.”  Truth does not get its strength from the majority.

  • karlf

    I think it’s a little bit unreasonable of God to get annoyed with me for using my penis purely for pleasure when it is pleasure he has placed at my immediate disposal, and given me a strong urge to use it – and this while he is allowing millions of children, all around the world to suffer horribly for years, from hunger, abuse, disease and all sorts of other preventable afflictions.

  • ms Catholic state

    We don’t follow St Tomas Aquinas….we follow the Pope.  After conception, the fusing of the egg and sperm, the newly conceived human being has its full quota of human DNA and will develop into an adult if not interfered with.!

  • Patrick_Hadley

    Simon, my point is that naturally only 3% of sex acts have a procreative result. I am not a believer in the validity of natural law arguments, but if I were I would argue that this shows that procreation is at best a secondary function of sex. If God had wanted sexual intercourse in human beings to be primarily for procreation he could have made our reproduction like that of many other animals, which only mate when the female is fertile and each act of union causes conception. 

    Can you think of another argument from natural law where such a minor role is thought to be the main purpose of an act? If when we eat there were only a 3% chance that our meals added to our nutrition would we argue that the primary purpose of eating was nutrition? Would it be gravely sinful for someone who was very overweight to take a pill that stopped even that 3% chance? 

  • charles

    As a young undergraduate in a Nigerian University 14 years ago, we lacked everything  any student will normally have. Good sanitation, accomodation, decent books, regular water, regular electricity and the list goes on.
     What we had in abundance was condoms and they were free. The idea that all the contracetive devices shipped to developing countries are meant for “poor illiterate women and their husbands” is not true.
    And the idea that Catholic Church prevents these poor women from accessing these “valuable, life saving materials” is also questionable as less than 20% of Nigerian population are Catholics, for example.


  • Jason Clifford

    What is the factual basis for your claim that 97% of married catholic women practice contraception?

    What specific study or studies support this assertion?

  • Jason Clifford

    Why is it ridiculous to recognise that the fundamental scientific basis for determining that one is a distinct human being is the specific DNA and RNA of that human being?

  • JByrne24

    I mention this (Aquinas) to demonstrate how the Church’s teaching on this matter has changed in the past and will change again in the future.

    Unknowingly, you open a can of worms with your silly reference to DNA. 
    You seem to think that a full Human Being is a living thing with a “full quota of Human DNA”. 

  • ms Catholic state

    The teachings of the Church have not changed on this matter.  Aquinas was talking about something he could not have known of before the invention of the microscope etc.  And they never will change on this matter.  It is and always has been fixed. 

    All human cells may have their full quota of DNA….but not all cells will grow to adulthood.  Only the very special embryo ie the newly formed human being will do so.

  • ms Catholic state

    Thou shalt not kill….now as always remains in force.  Ignore it at your peril.

  • karlf

    Don’t you think it seems a little unreasonable of God to get annoyed by me using my penis purely for pleasure – the source of pleasure he has given me, along with a strong urge to use it. This seems especially unfair when one considers how he is currently allowing millions of children, all over the world to suffer horribly, and for many years, from hunger, abuse, disease and other preventable afflictions.

  • theroadmaster

    The imposition of “contraceptive” choices on developing nations by wealthy countries and individuals, comes across as condescendingly imperialistic and at a subconscious level, the promulgators of these policies, are behaving inadvertently like the eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In effect, the women who are being targeted by these insidious campaigns, are emotionally blackmailed and cajoled into accepting the adoption of contraception because of so-called over-population concerns.  This gravely distorts the real socio-economic requirements of populations through Africa, Asia and Latin American, namely the equitable distribution of economic resources and better outcomes in terms of education, health, sanitation, water etc.  The following biblical quotation sums it all up-
    “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, (meaning being human, imperfect) know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give (good things, give) the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke, 11:9-13)  

  • theroadmaster

    The Zygote is human life in transition, whether you like it or not. It is a scientific fact.  You were once a zygote as all humans were at one stage.  Who are we to arrogate to ourselves the right to end life arbitrarily when it suits us?

  • theroadmaster

    Your figure of “3%” percent relates to infertile periods when the woman is not producing eggs in her ovaries but on average the chances of conception increases to around 30-40% when she has intercourse during the monthly period when fertilization takes place.  One cannot separate the procreative aspect from the unitive nature of the sexual act, as it becomes redundant and merely mechanical if one does so.  One completely misses the unselfish,personal bonding that is created between husband and wife when these two conditions are present together.

  • David Armitage

    Mulriply this by the number of copulating adults on the planet, and how often, and you begin to wonder whether God didn’t deliberately paint himself into a corner. Did Jesus have a full set of chromomes. If Mary gave him the Y, where did the X come from.

    And could Francis stop inventing horror stories and depicting them as reality.

     As to which great Catholic scholars referred to, they can be found in the archives of the commision  set up by Paul VI on the matter before he decided his infallibility was bigger than their’s. I’m sure  the celibate and presumably virginal BXVI aged 85 has much to say on the matter. Jesus didn’t. Even Paul didn’t get his head round it. I’m still checking Aquinas, but he seems to have gone through aversion therapy inflicted by his family.

  • Margarida

    The greater the personal attack the greater the ignorance of the argument. Pretty pathetic for an anti-Catholic bigot to have nothing better to do than to pollute a Catholic newspaper- not many dates yourself? Your cowardice to actually address the argument intelligently proves the previous point about lack of courage in men today. Compare the courage of St. Thomas Moore standing up to a megalomaniac despot, Henry VIII, versus those today that have no stomach for intellectual argument.

  • scary goat

    Simon Ho and Roadmaster

    Going off the subject slightly but related I would be interested to know your opinions on “exceptions” to the rule. Generally I am totally in agreement with your posts and I agree with Church teachings on contraception, but sometimes I wonder about genuine exceptions.  What about, for example, a married couple who have had children but the wife develops a condition where pregnancy would be dangerous.  Would it not be legitimate to use contraception in such circumstances as a matter of personal conscience, well thought out? Digressing further but on the subject of exceptions, what about innocent parties in a divorce?  What if one spouse abandons the other or where one is forced to divorce because of abuse?  I do feel strongly that Church teachings are right in general and the Church should not follow “current thinking”, but the question of exceptions worries me.  Your comments would be much appreciated.  Thankyou.

  • paulsays

    Its about not spreading aids – reducing the amount of adults and entirely innocent children that die from aids. You may disgaree that it is not effective perhaps (even thought it is effective), but you cannot disagree with there motives.

    Surely the motive to save lives is a good thing is it not?

  • tonyg

    Although the motive may be laudable paulsays, the end never justifies the means

  • misterheche

    Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler has penned a thought provoking  piece on the subject of women, sexuality, contraception, and abortion.  Here is the link:

    Here is an excerpt:

    is only the Catholic Church that is willing to tell women unpopular
    truths about human sexuality. Only the Catholic Church dares to remind
    us that the human sexual act always carries the potential to create new
    human beings, and that we’re setting ourselves and our future children
    up for disaster when we disregard this most fundamental of truths. It
    may not be convenient. It may not be what people want to be true. But it
    is true. And knowing the truth is always a prerequisite for freedom.

    so I find it ironic when contraception is said to
    allow anyone to live “freely.” Secular culture assures women that they
    can go ahead and engage in the act that creates babies, even if they are
    not ready to be mothers. They are handed contraception, and told to
    forget all about the possibility of parenthood. Then, when the
    contraception fails, as it so often does, they find themselves feeling
    trapped, perceiving that their only escape is through the doors of an
    abortion facility. This, to me, does not look like freedom…”

    insights are particularly relevant given today’s news story from
    Reuters: “Women overestimate effectiveness of Pill, condoms.”

    Story here:

  • Isabel Wood

    Wait… so do you think that people who are terrified of sex or who find it painful are still obliged do it?

    Aside from that, the way you talk about sex frankly disturbs me. just because something is about pleasure doesn’t mean that it isn’t a bonding activity or that you are objectifying the other person.

    When girls plait each other’s hair, are they treating the other person as a doll? When I give someone a hug is it because I am taking advantage of their warmth and the joy of close physical contact, and for all I care I could be hugging anybody?
    I’m confused as to how you think physical bonding between people works.

  • Robin Nemeth

    What they’re doing to children ATER those children are born is even more diabolical.

  • marvinmcconoughey

    ” One wonders which “great Catholic scholars” she has in mind.”  I don’t wonder, not being that interested in scholars, but If I were the poster and did wonder, I would do the necessary research and find out.  Certainly, there is no lack of research literature on Catholic scholars and their writings.