Melinda Gates, “practising Catholic”, on birth control

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Melinda Gates was holding forth at a conference in Berlin earlier this month about the necessity of universal access to contraception in the developing world, claiming that it is the only way that 200 million people who do not already have “access” will have a choice about how many children they will have and when.

Mrs Gates was one of five speakers on a TEDxChange platform addressing an international audience on global health and development issues. Her 20-minute address, on video as a TED Talk, is linked to the Gates Foundation’s “No controversy” campaign to get the global birth control juggernaut on track again after the slow-down imposed by the Bush administration and the diversion of resources over the last couple of decades to AIDS work. A page on the TEDxChange website informs us:

This July 11, the Government of the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will bring together governments, philanthropies, businesses, and global citizens to address the need for increased support for family planning tools. The goal is to deliver more modern family planning tools to more women in the world’s poorest countries.

On the same page Twitter and Facebook messages from women singing the praises of contraception roll across continuously -- responses to the question, “How have contraceptives change your life?” As far as I can see there are no messages from women caught up in the cervical cancer epidemic, the breast cancer epidemic, the ones who had abortions because their contraception failed, the ones who are single in their 30s because its so easy for men to walk away from a sterile woman, the African women who contracted HIV while using injectable contraception, and their men...

Gates’ No Controversy slogan has also been prompted by the huge controversy that compulsory insurance cover for contraception has generated in the US over the past year. The prominence of the Catholic Church in the controversy leads Mrs Gates to advertise her Catholic credentials (“I consider myself a practising Catholic … my mom’s great-uncle a Jesuit priest…my great-aunt was a Dominican nun…educated by nuns who taught me to question received teachings” etc etc). One of her and her classmates' questions then, she maintains, was “Is birth control really a sin?” 

Because one of the reasons we have this huge discomfort in talking about contraception is the lingering concern that if we separate sex from reproduction we are going to promote promiscuity. And I think it’s a reasonable question to be asked: What is the impact of contraception on sexual morality?

As a matter of fact she does not answer that rhetorical question. She only goes on to say that “Like most women, my decision about birth control had nothing to do with promiscuity. I had a plan for my future…” Ah yes, but how many girls and young women did not have a plan when they relied on contraception and abortion to tidy up after their experiments with sex? And what about all the Black and white working class American women who do not have a career, or a husband and three neatly spaced children to show for it?

Sorry Melinda. Do wish you and Bill would stick to fighting malaria and building hospitals in the developing world.

This article is published by Carolyn Moynihan and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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Family Edge looks at news and trends affecting the family in the light of human dignity. Our focus is the inspiring, creative, humorous, annoying, ridiculous, and dangerous ideas in the evening news. Send tips and brainwaves to the editor, Tamara Rajakariar, at tamara.rajakariar@

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