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Guaranteed Controversy

July 11 marked the 100th anniversary of the first eugenics conference in London, a date that in recent decades has carried the euphemistic title “World Population Day.” On that date this year, again in the city of London, Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sponsored a “family planning” summit hailed as the first big international meeting on birth control in 18 years. In the run-up to the conference, figurehead Melinda Gates — Bill was at home taking care of the kids — launched a campaign called “No Controversy,” with the motto, “Contraceptives are not Controversial.” When someone broaches a topic with assurances that “this is not controversial,” you can almost bet that controversy is about to break loose. Melinda, who has repeatedly represented herself in the media as a “practicing Catholic,” told CNN, “I think we made birth control and contraceptives way too political in the United States.” Never mind the natural law and millennia of Judeo-Christian belief, just chalk it up to politics!

When the day of the London Summit on Family Planning arrived, the media pump was primed to gush with praise for Gates’s project. Governments and donor groups went to bat for birth control: The U.K. committed $801 million over eight years (Guardian, July 11). According to MercatorNet’s Michael Cook (July 13), UNFPA kicked in $378 million, Norway $200 million, the Netherlands $160 million, Germany $122 million, and so on. The U.S. had already committed to spending $640 million this year. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation increased its total amount on contraception programs to $1 billion over the next eight years, for a grand total of $4.6 billion pledged. You read that right: Melinda raised billions of dollars for contraception initiatives the world over. That’s a lot of zeroes. All that cash was destined to raise eyebrows.

Then came more zeroes. The Summit’s organizers pledged to fill an “unmet need” for family-planning services to an additional 120 million women in many of the poorest countries — which is over half of the alleged 222 million women who, according to the Guttmacher Institute (which has ties to Planned Parenthood), want access to contraception but don’t have it — and they claim that the cumulative impact of the pledged funds could be 200,000 fewer maternal deaths, 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly three million fewer babies dying in the first year of life. Now, when estimates are given in the millions, it’s hard to really know where data ends and hyperbole begins.

Writing for the Witherspoon Institute, Greg Pfund­stein and Meghan Grizzle (July 18) point out that a nation’s maternal mortality ratio is highly correlated to the educational level of its women and to their access to maternal health care. According to UNFPA, providing basics such as skilled birth attendants to all women would reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent. Pfund­stein and Grizzle amply conclude, “Even if we assume that it is true that 222 million women want contraception and can’t get it, do we really need $4.6 billion more in funding for contraception? That’s twenty dollars for each woman. A woman whose education has not been improved, whose access to essential healthcare has not been improved, whose very real and legitimate desire for children has not been met, whose economic opportunities have not been improved a whit. For this woman, Melinda Gates has one message: ‘Here’s twenty bucks; don’t have babies.'”

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