LONDON — Melinda Gates, the wife of billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates, has launched a massive campaign to expand artificial contraception and abortion across the globe in direct opposition to the Catholic faith she claims as her own.
One of the world’s wealthiest women, Gates paired with Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom’s secretary for the Department for International Development (DfID), to raise $4 billion in order to extend “affordable, life-saving contraceptive services to an additional 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020.”
The London Summit on Family Planning they presided over on July 11 included 260 delegates from governments, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and abortion groups, including International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Services International and Marie Stopes International. Also on hand were representatives from pharmaceutical giants Merck, Pfizer, Bayer and others most involved in chemical contraception.
“We are bringing far more resources to this effort than ever before,” Gates declared. The universal desire of mothers to give their children “every good thing” can only be fulfilled when access to contraceptives is universal, she added.
A morning marathon plenary session followed, during which delegates pledged their commitment and their country’s money to global family planning, one after another.
Anuradha Gupta, India’s minister of Health and Family Welfare, vowed her government would make contraception services available “in every nook and corner of our large country.” Senegal and Indonesia both committed to promote “permanent” methods of contraception.
“Indonesia pledged to increase its commitment by 100% and Senegal by 200%, and Nigeria will increase its commitment to family planning spending by 300%,” Nigeria’s health minister declared to applause.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Rajiv Shah said the United States made its commitments to family planning clear as soon as the Obama administration took office, directing $640 million annually towards international family-planning programs that reach 83 million women.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the summit, declaring that family planning “is absolutely fundamental to any hope of tackling poverty in our world.”
“Having fewer children to support helps the economy to grow,” he added, echoing the themes that had been highlighted all day.
He said Britain would double its commitment to “reproductive health” to $800 million over eight years, which would help 24 million women and girls, preventing an unintended pregnancy every 10 seconds and saving a woman’s life every two hours.
The audience stood to applaud.
Cameron also showed himself to be taking a side against the Church when he answered a question from a delegate.
“How are we going to pressure the Holy See to stop influencing Africa not to allow contraception?” the delegate demanded. “I think it is an outrage that we still have to put up with these totally unnecessary, outdated and unacceptable practices.”
Cameron had to wait for applause for the delegate's question to die down before responding, “Make the arguments that we have what works in the world and nothing will be able to stand in the way.”
There were a few minor departures from the main theme of the conference. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, for example, said his country was only donating $5 million because it was spending a lot more on infrastructure. “How can you have development without electricity and roads?” he asked.
The Korean ambassador to Britain, Kyo Hu Choo, was introduced to represent the country with a 100% contraceptive prevalence rate as a “model for the world.” But he began by saying, “Now we suffer from very low birth rate. ... Perhaps we overdid it.”
At the summit’s end, Gates announced that she and her husband had decided to double their donations to contraceptives to $1 billion over the following eight years. When all the pledges were tallied, including those from wealthy foundations like Hewlett Packard and Bloomberg, the total exceeded the $4-billion goal.
Notably absent from the event was any voice of dissent. No one mentioned China, where, in the wake of a three-decades-long one-child-per-family restriction, a black market for babies has emerged and female infanticide and sex-selective abortion have resulted in skewed birth rates of boys to girls as high as 137:100.
No American delegates objected to increasing controversial spending abroad while Americans are struggling at home. And even within Britain the opposition voice was silent about Cameron’s announcement while the day’s headlines were about the failing social security and health-care systems. And there were no pro-life organizations, no Catholic Church representation, and no declared Christian delegates.
However, Melinda Gates repeatedly represented herself in the media as a “practicing Catholic.” Before the summit, she said she had a great uncle who was a Jesuit priest and that her great aunt, who was an Ursuline nun, taught her to read. She graduated from Ursuline Academy in Dallas, where she said she learned “incredible social justice.”
The Ursuline Academy mission statement, however, declares the importance of “communicating the Gospel,” fostering “the message of God’s love — that each person has unique eternal worth” — and the “responsibility and the privilege of sharing Christian respect and love.”
“I think we made birth control and contraceptives way too political in the United States,” Gates told CNN. “I think if people understood that 200 million women want this around the world they would start to say, ‘Okay, that makes sense.’ ... We shouldn’t make it such a political issue.”
“If Melinda Gates wants to be truly radical and empowering and engage with the profoundly holistic and person-centered Catholic faith which she professes, she would do well to consider that Napro (natural procreative) technology is truly empowering for women — is better for their health (no abortifacient chemicals with health risks attached), is better for relationships between spouses, is better for the environment and costs almost nothing,” said Sarah de Nordwall of the U.K.’s Catholic Voices group. “Coupled with an emphasis on trade justice (much of which needs to come from initiatives in wealthy countries) and the provision of more female-friendly health services, this would provide a much better deal for women, their families and the countries in which they live.”
Natural family planning was mentioned once or twice, and CycleBeads (an NFP tool) were on a display table at the summit, but it would destroy the larger “win-win” plan the Gates have described in which pharmaceutical giants roll out discounted drugs with the promise of an “expanding market” while birth rates fall.
The expanding contraceptive market, the Financial Times reported this month, could result in a profit of $17 billion by 2015. The Merck for Mothers’ donation of $25 million over eight years hardly seems generous in that light, but the other pharmaceuticals were not even so openhanded.
Pfizer only committed to increasing its capacity for producing Depo Provera, its injectable hormones. The Female Health Company, makers of a female condom, only pledged a sliding-scale discount on their items — the more bought, the more saved.
Sterilization and abortion don’t fit in to that profit scheme, either, but they do profit the large “civil society” of abortion industry organizations such as International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes and Population Services International.
“This is not about abortion. This is not about population control,” Gates said before the summit. She dismissed the cases “from the past” of forced abortions and sterilizations as not relevant to her campaign.
Ironic, then, that on the very same day of her summit the health department in Jaipur, the largest city in the district of Rajasthan in India, launched its campaign to sterilize 100,000 women in just two weeks. A complaint against the many “sterilization camps” that are held throughout India, which receive millions in DfID and USAID funding — where women are maimed on straw mats and many have reportedly bled to death — is winding its way through the country’s supreme court.
Register correspondent Celeste McGovern filed this report from London.