Written by Judy Molland
Just in time for Mother's Day, we are learning that Melinda Gates has decided to make birth control her signature issue. “My goal is to get this back on the global agenda,” she tells Newsweek. She plans to use the Gates Foundation, worth almost $34 billion, to put her agenda in place.
As Newsweek reports, the Gates foundation is teaming up with the British government in July to cosponsor a summit of world leaders in London to start raising the $4 billion the foundation says it will cost to get 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020.
“This Is A Life-And-Death Crisis”
Gates explained her position last month during a TEDxChange presentation on family planning, “This is a life-and-death crisis. Every year, 100,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant die in childbirth. About 600,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant give birth to a baby who dies in her first month of life. I know everybody wants to save these mothers and babies.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded family-planning projects since its inception in 1999, but it hasn’t been a major focus until now. Melinda Gates says that as she traveled the world on behalf of the foundation over the last decade, she heard over and over again from women in developing countries that they need consistent access to reliable birth control.
For a woman who went to Catholic school, doesn’t this bring up some difficult issues? Well, yes, it turns out that Gates went through a lot of soul-searching before she was ready to champion the issue publicly. But while defying church teachings was difficult, she came to realize that it was morally necessary. And with ninety-eight percent of Catholic women in the U.S. using modern birth control, just as Gates herself did when she spaced out the births of her three children, she is in good company.
Focus On The Lives Of Women And Children
Gates’s approach is to focus on the lives of women and children, and make it clear that the agenda is neither coercive population control nor abortion; by doing so, she hopes the controversy over international family-planning programs can be defused.
Another target of Gates’s crusade is to pour money into the long-neglected field of contraceptive research, seeking entirely new methods of birth control. The Gates Foundation is already funding research into contraceptives that women could inject themselves, sparing them onerous clinic trips. Aware that many women reject the birth-control pill because of side effects, the foundation is investing in a search for a contraceptive medication that works without hormones, a potential whole new class of drug, says Gary Darmstadt, director of family health at the foundation's global health program.
An Implantable Device That’s Woman-Controlled?
Another of the crazy ideas we’ve been dreaming about, he says, is whether we could create an implantable device that would be woman-controlled, and that you could put it in, and it could last her reproductive lifetime. She could turn it on and off at will, and it would never need to be removed. That’s something that I think every woman everywhere in the world could potentially benefit from, he says.
Wow! That sounds amazing, as well as revolutionary.
But even without that, what Gates is doing for women’s lives is wonderful. Since we know Gates will meet opposition, even though no one should disagree with women having control over their own reproductive systems, let’s all stand together and applaud her.
Kudos to Melinda Gates for taking on the crucial issues of family planning and contraception.