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):

Birth control 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 LifeSiteNews.com, 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.

Related Stories

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Photo credit: DFID UK Department for International Development on flickr


Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

This is sad that in this day and age, not only is there still a war on women, but the poorer we are, the less we count toward the global community...

Vaiva G.
Vaiva G5 years ago

I am completely for preserving non-western customs and traditions... but contraception is a thing that women should not only have access to but be encouraged to use, if only for their own survival.

Stella I.
Stella B5 years ago

Steve Jalsevac, co-founder of LifeSiteNews.com: "They want food, water, medical care."
This is such a stupid guy, sorry. We are talking about intelligent women here, not about fish in a fish tank! These woman can plan, think, feel, oh yes! And another child often means less food, water and medical care for the entire family. Can Steve Jalsevac take responsibility for that? For the children being? For the future child? For the parents? And - hey - what, if a woman simply doesn't WANT a child?
Ok, let's leave all these cultivated decisions to Steve Jalsevac then. He knows better, what's good for ALL women.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

I find it so sad that women can't get contraception because of men's beliefs and the whole religion and God thing. It's not like they're killing anyone. You can't really kill when they're no baby or child there to kill. It's simply prevention, so these women and their family can have a chance to be in control of their families.

Lauren B.

Women will be responsible for contraception as long as we are the only ones who will definitely be caring for babies. All women need education and options for birth control, but nobody needs pressure. Provide options, make birth control easily available, and let women make their own decisions.

Michele J.
Michele Jones5 years ago

So we're willing to consider providing free contraception to foreign countries at the same time we are trying to rid Americans of the same??? Let's demolish Planned Parenthood, but start them up elsewhere??? Americans are so backwards, I cannot even tell you.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

There is a physical limit to how many humans Earth can support. We have already "filled the Earth" to way overflowing with humans. The sunshine falling on the surface has to be divided between growing food and supplying other energy needs, including the need to extract fresh water from seawater for irrigation as well as for drinking and sanitation. I don;t know for sure how many humans Earth can support if we are willing to live in a highly engineered world, optimized for sheer number of humans supported regardless of quality of life.

Trudy Killa
Trudy Killa5 years ago

The war on women continues internationally. Why is it always the women's responsibility to prevent pregnancy. Given choice & education - pregnancies can be prevented by a variety of options. I am dismayed that 1 % of the survey would not provide an option for contraception options for women. Without contraception or pregnancy options, our world will not need to worry about pregnancies for we will be so overpopulated that our concern will be food, diseases & death to our planet. And yes, I too put blame on the paternalistic hierarchy of the christian church , those right wing politicians & religions who would deny the right of contraception/abortion for women because they inherently fear women, deny her equal rights & believe that all women are the " root of evil".

Karen Foley
Karen P5 years ago

I have always thought the way the western world goes about trying to help third world countries to be so bloody stupid - give, give, give - so what money isn't swallowed up by the administration of the aid agencies gets spent on some food so these people can breed and breed and we can have more and more people starving - yeah that's really clever people - how about some bloody education so we can have less people born into abject misery and poverty?

lynne kennedy
Lynette kennedy5 years ago

Prevention is always better than cure.
So unless the catholic church is prepared to part with some of it's trillions of dollars to eradicate poverty, feed, educate, house and medically care for the surplus population that it wants the poor women to continually breed - by condemning these women and their children to a life of hardship, suffering and misery.

Unless the catholic church accepts the responsibility by practical help with putting their money where their mouth is - for it's teaching that a women's purpose in life is to continually pro create, it has NO right what so ever to have any say in anyone's life.
Give these women access to contraception and the right to choose with out the fear of any condemnation.