Melinda Gates Fighting for Women

First off, a little repro-rights humor from SNL to start the blog post off proper.

Getting protection from the people who know my body best: the gentlemen of the Republican Party


Melinda Gates has come out of the closet as a powerful, wealthy (WEALTHY!!!!!!!!) advocate for global access to contraception. It’s now her signature public health priority.

She’s Catholic.

Her religious upbringing taught her to fight for social justice. But social justice for women around the world is antithetical to her religion’s other, more prominent dictates.

She went through a lot of soul-searching before she was ready to champion the issue publicly. “I had to wrestle with which pieces of religion do I use and believe in my life, what would I counsel my daughters to do,” she says. Defying church teachings was difficult, she adds, but also came to seem morally necessary. Otherwise, she says, “we’re not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.”

The article then summarizes the ways that family planning… no, wait, let me be forthright: the ways that women’s bodies have been nothing less than pawns of world leaders’ geopolitical power games.

Cold War fears of overpopulation were driven by the assumption that more (dark-skinned) babies would mean more communist foot-soldiers of the revolution.

Family planning (women’s bodies) were the secret to building US economic and political growth.

In the aftermath of World War II, high birth rates and falling death rates in poor countries led to an international panic about overpopulation, which many believed would cause widespread instability, leaving countries vulnerable to communist revolution. … In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson implored the United Nations to “face forthrightly the multiplying problems of our multiplying populations … Let us act on the fact that less than $5 invested in population control is worth $100 invested in economic growth.”

“Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership, may … determine whether we can resolve successfully the other great questions of peace, prosperity, and individual rights that face the world,” wrote George H.W. Bush in 1973.

You know what came next: coercive family planning policies in China and India.

Then in the 80s and 90s, international family planning moved away from the forbiddingly steely national security regime back into the cozy, womblike arms of the feminist movement.

And once it turned back into a woman’s right, well. Ideological fireworks.

The kind of fireworks that have burned away almost all funding for contraception research. The kind of fireworks that spark people to write that “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.”

Conjugal dignity?

How about the dignity of a couple being about to choose when to bring a child into one’s life? The dignity of waiting until a couple is financially and emotionally ready to give a newborn a happy life?

How about the dignity of serving women’s health needs all over the world, rather than a single group’s ideological needs?

Gates believes that by focusing on the lives of women and children, and by making it clear that the agenda is neither coercive population control nor abortion, the controversy over international family-planning programs can be defused. Right now, she points out, 100,000 women annually die in childbirth after unintended pregnancies. Six hundred thousand babies born to women who didn’t want to be pregnant die in the first month of life. “She is somebody who really sees this as a public-health necessity,” says Melanne Verveer, the United States ambassador at large for global women’s issues. “I think she believes, and I hope she is right, that people of different political persuasions can come together on this issue.”

I want to say, fair play to you, Ms. Gates. Good luck with that.

On the other hand, her foundation has so much money that perhaps they can simply sidestep governments on this one. Or at least sidestep the religio-ideologically motivated critics of increased access to family planning.

And I tell you what: if they develop some kind of magic new contraceptive technology (which I didn’t say above, but they’re working on)? I bet people would buy it.

I bet religious people all over the world would buy it.

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