17 Jul

When Saving Women’s Lives Becomes Controversial

.When Saving Women’s Lives Becomes Controversial

At a major family planning conference in London, England organized by the  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government, contraception  for developing countries is being put back on the agenda. Between 1995 and  2008, international assistance funds for family planning were virtually replaced  with spending on HIV/AIDS. While treating and preventing HIV/AIDS is obviously a  very important international development issues, so is family planning in an  environment where the world’s population continues to surge.

$4 Billion Pledged to Help 120 Million Women

At the conference, more than $4 billion was pledged for family planning  services. This is expected to provide family planning services to 120 million  women in the world’s poorest countries over the next eight years.   According to a new study in The Lancet, using data from the United Nations and  World Health Organization, many lives could be saved by giving women birth  control options (source: NY  Times): reduces health risks, the researchers said, by delaying first  pregnancies, which carry higher risks in very young women; cutting down on  unsafe abortions, which account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths in  developing countries; and controlling dangers associated with pregnancies that  are too closely spaced.

The World  Health Organization estimates that the unmet need for contraception is  significant — around 222 million women in developing countries are not using any  method of contraception, but would like to be able to delay or stop having  children. The reasons  for the lack of access to contraception include:

  • limited choice of methods;
  • limited access to contraception, particularly among young people, poorer  segments of the populations, or unmarried people;
  • fear or experience of side-effects;
  • cultural or religious opposition;
  • poor quality of available services;
  • gender-based barriers.

The level of unmet demand for contraception is at 53% of women of  reproductive age in Africa, 21% in Asia, and 22% in Latin America and the  Caribbean. The issue of limited choice of methods can be of particular concern  to women who feel the need to hide their contraceptive use from their husbands  and would therefore rather be able to get an injection every once in a while  rather than trying to hide pills at home.

Why is Family Planning Controversial?

Although it could save millions of lives, the decision to fund family  planning is not without controversy. Catholic groups argue that Melinda Gates, a  Catholic herself, is contradicting the teaching of her own religion by  supporting and promoting this agenda. Steve Jalsevac, co-founder of, told the Toronto  Star:

It’ss clearly a contradiction of very serious  Catholic moral teachings. Most of the poor people in the Third World — that’s  the last thing they want from the West. They want food, water, medical care.

According to Melinda Gates, however, there should be no controversy. She told  the New  York Times:

Somewhere along the way we got confused by our  own conversation and we stopped trying to save these lives. We’re not talking  about abortion. We’re not talking about population  control. What I’m talking  about is giving women the power to save their  lives.

Criticism has also come from a cultural perspective, with the Nigerian  President telling the BBC that “it is  difficult for you to tell any Nigerian to number their children because …it is  not expected to reject God’s gifts.”

That is, however, missing the point. Family planning isn’t about telling  women or families what to do. It is about giving them the ability to make  choices and have some control over their own survival. That choice may be to use  contraception or not to use it, but the choice should at least be  available.

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