Melinda Gates: Steadfast in the Face of Contraception Controversy

Posted on July 9, 2012


Melinda Gates is my new favorite heroine.  In an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, she shoots down conservative Catholics’ criticisms of her ambitious family-planning and contraception efforts for poor women around the world.  A practicing Catholic herself, she sees no moral conflict with her mission as an advocate for these women, nor with the use of contraception to achieve the goals that so many women share:  a healthy, self-sufficient family, with opportunities for the success and happiness of all of  their children.  Quite the opposite, even in the face of criticism from within her own Church.

I think Gates lays out the moral issue very clearly, and the Catholic Church is on the wrong end of it.  She points out that she was raised with a strong sense of social justice, and I will wager that came from her upbringing in the Church.  When I was in a Catholic high school, we even had a class on Social Justice, and we learned the same thing that appears on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website:  All lives have equal value.  Says Gates:  “… if you believe in helping poor women, if you believe in children living and thriving, I think this is a necessary tool in this day and age…. To hear a poor woman say to me, ‘I can’t find the means to feed this child, and if I have seven children, there is no way I can feed and keep alive seven children,’ I think somebody needs to give voice to that.”

Browse around the Gates website, and you will see a focus on saving women’s lives, improving their health, improving the health and security of their children.  We know that contraception is an invaluable tool in family planning, and family planning in turn is essential to lifting people out of poverty, to improving their health, to fostering broader opportunities.  And it’s not just about opportunities for women.  Half the children impacted by poverty and maternal deaths are boys, after all.  And the men left widowed with too many children to feed suffer, too.  To think otherwise is to say that they love their children less than we do.  That their lives are worth less.

In contrast to Gates’ approach, CNN quotes Gates’ own Bishop Kevin Farrell:  “Human sexuality and sexual expression in marriage are among God’s greatest gifts.  Artificial contraception violates the meaning of this gift.”  Well, first off, isn’t it supremely ironic that a bunch of guys who are supposed to remain forever celibate should pontificate to the rest of us on the proper rules of sexual conduct, when they themselves should never experience it… or its consequences?  Much better, I suppose, that God’s gift should be used to dominate, subjugate, and disenfranchise half the population of the planet, and then some (I speak of the women and children).  Secondly, Farrell’s statement demonstrates the rigid, faulty thinking that sexual conduct must be, shall be, engaged in only when you want to conceive a child.  It’s one of God’s greatest gifts, but you can’t use it just for fun.  No, no, that would be… dirty.  Which completely ignores the fact that even within marriages, sex is used for… well, fun.  Our God-given fun should not also lead to the economic ruin of families on the brink, and the deaths of countless mothers and children.  But for far too many poor families around the world, it does.

So, kudos to Melinda Gates for doing what is right even when she’s under fire from within her own Church.  Now that’s great leadership, and more:  it’s real integrity.