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

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.