TORONTO — Melinda Gates is a Catholic who attended high school at Dallas’ all-girls Ursuline Academy. But she’s anything but Catholic in her position on condom use.

“In the fight against AIDS, condoms save lives,” she said at last month’s International AIDS Conference in Toronto, where she and megabillionaire husband Bill jointly delivered the Aug. 13 keynote address. “If you oppose the distribution of condoms, something is more important to you than saving lives.”

Catholic teaching — and AIDS statistics — beg to differ. Not only do condom promotion programs fail where abstinence succeeds against AIDS — but souls as well lives are at stake.

Gates’ comments spotlighted concerns that many Catholics and pro-life and pro-family activists have about the operations of the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple’s huge charitable foundation.

The critics point out that the foundation, which concentrates on education and global health initiatives, has directed tens of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood and other groups that operate anti-life and anti-family programs.

And as Melinda Gates’ Toronto comments indicate, the foundation is a major backer of condom distribution programs.

The concerns were heightened earlier this summer when fellow billionaire Warren Buffett announced in late June that he was giving $31 billion of his own fortune to the Gates Foundation.

Buffett’s charitable foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, has made support of abortion-related services a centerpiece of its spending.

Since its inception in 1994, the Gates Foundation has disbursed more than $10.8 billion. Its endowment prior to Buffett’s gift was more than $29 billion, making it the world’s largest “transparent” private foundation. (“Transparent” foundations make their operations and assets publicly known).

To retain their charitable status, U.S.-based private foundations must give away at least 5% of their assets each year. That level of spending gives the foundation lots of clout in establishing global policies in its key areas of interest.

And according to the Gates Foundation’s website, the foundation seeks to gain even more influence by funding “projects that leverage additional support and serve as catalysts for long-term, systemic change.”

‘Reproductive Health’

Many of the Gates Foundation’s grants are non-contentious, including funding it gives to Catholic-sponsored initiatives such as disaster relief programs administered by Catholic Relief Services and funding Cristo Rey Catholic schools in the United States.

However, the foundation’s activities are more controversial with respect to two of its “Priority Diseases and Conditions” — “reproductive health” issues and AIDS prevention through the distribution of condoms.

As defined by pro-abortion activists and by the World Health Organization, “reproductive health” services include the provision of abortion.

As of June 2006, the Gates Foundation had disbursed $1.9 billion to HIV, tuberculosis and reproductive health services, according to the foundation’s website.

Included in this total is more than $60 million to the United Nations Population Fund.

The U.S. government suspended funding to the U.N. Population Fund in 2002 because of the agency’s support of China’s coercive population-control program. Documented abuses under that program include forced abortions.

In a September 2005 statement, the State Department said, “Since [2002], we have continuously called on China to end its program of coercive abortion. We have also repeatedly urged China and the U.N. Population Fund to restructure the organization’s programs in a way that would allow the United States to provide funding.”

Planned Parenthood

Another major beneficiary of the Gates Foundation has been International Planned Parenthood Federation, the world’s largest private abortion business.

Responding to the Register via e-mail, Gates Foundation spokesman Andrew Shih said that the foundation has granted a total of $33,412,120 to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

But the Gates Foundation insists it is not promoting abortion through its grants to the U.N. Population Fund and Planned Parenthood.

“These grants are used to further reproductive health efforts around the world — people can learn more about the foundation’s programs on our website,” Shih said. “The foundation does not fund abortion services.”

Jim Sedlak is executive director of STOPP International, an arm of the American Life League that monitors Planned Parenthood. He said that by giving more than $30 million to Planned Parenthood, the Gates Foundation has definitely supported abortion.

Sedlak said that it means little if a grant to Planned Parenthood is given to a non-abortion program. Such grants free up other dollars within the organization, Sedlak said, that Planned Parenthood spends directly on abortion services.

“Once the money gets inside Planned Parenthood, it’s all bookkeeping,” Sedlak said. “What they’re doing is they give money to the largest abortion chain in the United States — that is Planned Parenthood Federation of America.”

Sedlak noted the foundation also supports distribution of abortifacient contraceptives, such as the contraceptive pill.

Sedlak said that several years ago, when the Gates Foundation first began to support Planned Parenthood, STOPP International and the American Life League attempted to contact Bill and Melinda Gates and foundation officials to express their concerns.

“We tried everything we could to try to change that, including running newspaper ads out where the foundation is headquartered,” Sedlak said. “But it was all to no avail. They still give millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood.”

 

Condoms

In her remarks at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Melinda Gates criticized those who oppose the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.

“In some countries with widespread AIDS epidemics, leaders have declared the distribution of condoms immoral, ineffective or both. Some have argued that condoms do not protect against HIV, but in fact help spread it,” she said. “This is a serious obstacle to ending AIDS.”

The Catholic Church teaches that the use of artificial contraceptives, including condoms, is immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “every action, which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (No. 2370).

Gates Foundation spokesman Shih declined to answer when asked by the Register if the foundation believed that the Church’s opposition to condoms was undermining efforts to combat the spread of the disease.

Along with stressing the intrinsic immorality of condom use, Church leaders also cite empirical evidence that chastity, expressed through sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity for married persons, is a superior means of preventing AIDS (see sidebar).

“As a public health initiative, condoms have not only not worked, they have arguably made the situation worse,” said Edward Green, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS.

Buffett’s Billions

Both STOPP’s Sedlak and Harvard’s Green worry that Warren Buffett’s $30-billion gift to the Gates Foundation will result in an even stronger emphasis on flawed programs.

“Now that they have Warren Buffett’s money on top of Gates’ billions, they are going to be the trailblazers,” Sedlak said. “They are blazing the trail in the pro-abortion world to bring the Planned Parenthood philosophy to every country in the world.”

Green said that when he first learned about Buffett’s gift, he made an informal effort to get in touch with the billionaire to explain that the Gates Foundation was committed to the wrong AIDS-prevention approach.

Said Green, “I want to sit down with Warren Buffett and say, ‘Listen, you mean well and you want to do good in the world and you think that the Gates Foundation already has mechanisms set up. But I’m here to tell you that Gates is doing the same-old, same-old that has failed.’”

Added Green, “I would hope to get Warren Buffett to say, ‘Okay, Bill … I’m giving you this money. But when it comes to AIDS, you have to do it this way. You have to follow a successful model, rather than an unsuccessful model.’”

Tom McFeely is based in Victoria, British Columbia.

Uganda’s Miracle

From 1991 to 2001, Uganda’s AIDS infection rate dropped 15% to 5% — the greatest decline of any country in the world. Why?

Behavioral Change

Research shows that Uganda’s abstinence campaign worked. Reduction in the number of sexual partners, not condoms, reduced AIDS in Uganda.

Failed Strategy

When nations promote condoms, promiscuity increases — and so does AIDS. Senegal, Zambia, Jamaica, and the Philippines saw success with abstinence.

Morals Count

Religious organizations have taken the lead in every country that has reduced AIDS.

In Africa, Condoms Don’t Work

KAMPALA, Uganda — When it comes to the question of what has worked best in preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa, the answer is as simple as ABC.

According to Edward Green, author of Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning From Successes in Developing Countries, the abstinence-based and fidelity-based “ABC” program pioneered by the Uganda government in the early 1990s has proven far superior in preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, than the condom-focused policies favored by the global AIDS prevention establishment.

ABC stands for Abstinence, Be faithful or use Condoms if A and B aren’t practiced. The third element of condom use is recommended only to those who refuse to practice the far safer A and B elements of the program.

Uganda adopted the approach in the early 1990s, when it had one of the highest rates of AIDS infection in Africa. In a study published in April 2004, Cambridge University researchers Rand Stoneburner and Daniel Low-Beer found that after the ABC program was introduced, the prevalence of HIV among pregnant women aged 15-24 plunged from 21% in 1991 to 9.7% in 1998.

Overall, the Cambridge researchers reported, the Ugandan program had diminished the incidence of HIV in Uganda by 70%, linked to a 60% reduction in casual sex.

Many condom advocates have attempted to dismiss the positive results from ABC programs by arguing that it’s the C element of condom distribution that is primarily responsible.

But Green, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health who describes himself as a “liberal” who used to work in “condom social marketing” programs in the 1980s, said that comprehensive studies have refuted that argument. The studies demonstrate that participants in ABC programs who rely only on condoms and ignore abstinence and fidelity actually have an increased rate of contracting HIV.

Green cited two key reasons for the ineffectiveness of condoms. First, even if used consistently and properly every time an individual engages in sex, condoms are only about 80% effective in reducing the risk of transmitting the AIDS virus. And in practice, individuals who use them generally don’t use them consistently and properly all the time, meaning the effectiveness rate drops sharply.

The second factor is the “behavioral disinhibition effect” that results from condom-use campaigns. Individuals gain a false sense of security from the pro-condom advertising and become more inclined to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Green said that the ABC message has been delivered in Africa both by secular organizations, who concentrate on highlighting the risks involved in promiscuity and on providing pithy advice on how to change behavior, and by religious-based organizations, who also stress the moral dimension of healthy sexual conduct.

And while both approaches appear to be effective, Green noted that the two African countries that have recorded the most success in reducing HIV infection rates — Uganda and Senegal — are the ones that have drawn most upon religious and moral perspectives.

Said Green, “It turns out that the Catholic Church’s approach is an asset.”

— Tom McFeely