Contraception in Africa Melinda Gates and the BBC

4 years after broaching the topic on Sunday Morning Live, the BBC today once again went for this discussion on their Sunday Morning Live Show.

There was nothing new to bring to the table, other than once again, it was an opportunity to berate the Catholic Church for not bringing her teaching ‘up to date’ (the truths of Christ and His Church are timeless, they do not blow the way of the prevailing wind) and for people to argue why contraception is so desperately needed while representatives of the Church defend themselves.

The BBC rang me about the show earlier in the week, but thanks to having appeared only two weeks previously where I discussed abortion, and a previous appearance on this subject, I was out of the running but was heartily glad to be able to recommend Obianuju Ekeocha and Clare Short, who the BBC decided to run with. It’s great to see real-life Catholics who love the Church defend these issues, and it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree with an African woman who has on the ground knowledge and experience of these issues and who is in the process of filming a documentary about this very subject.

You never get much time to be able to put forward your points in any real detail, however I would note the following which didn’t come up in debate.

1) In a recent Com Res Poll in the UK 65% of respondents strongly opposed UK overseas aid money going towards the provision of abortion overseas. The teaching of the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with this.  The UK has not been a Catholic country for over 500 years.

2) Melinda Gates has expressed a hope that the Catholic Church will change her position on contraception, however what she omits is that the term ‘birth control’ is now being used to cover both provision of contraception and abortion. While most people might think of birth control as being to do with contraception, the reality is that the term is used to encompass abortion. This was admitted by Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion clinic, who only last week said that over 50% of their clients who present for abortion were using some form of contraception and that abortion must be considered as a form of birth control. 

3) Therefore if we are talking about introducing birth control into Africa, this also means provision of abortion, out of which providers are sure to make a pretty penny, especially if they are funded by the likes of Melinda Gates, government-funded direct aid and NGO’s. Abortion clinics will claim that they are providing birth control both in the form of abortions and devices to prevent pregnancies but as in the UK, the bulk of their profits will come from abortion provision.

4) If well over 50% of women who have an abortion are already attempting to use some form of contraception, then clearly it is failing, therefore by introducing this into Africa to meet some form of pre-determined need, you are, very conveniently, creating abortion demand, by setting up an unrealistic expectation about prevention of pregnancy and potentially encouraging women to expose themselves to more risk. Are women in Africa properly informed about the potential failure rate of various devices, or indeed any potential health risks?

5) There is absolutely no point in providing contraception, unless you are going to provide basic infrastructure, such as food, clean water and sanitation, skilled birth attendants (for those women who do want to have as many children as they choose), medication, roads, telecommunications, education and opportunities. Stopping a woman from having lots of babies doesn’t mean that the next day that she is going to go out and smash the glass ceiling, particularly if she’s neither got the skills or education to apply for a job, roads to travel on, someone to look after any existing children and presuming any such jobs exist. From this outsider’s perspective, this looks to be all about stopping poor African women from breeding as a matter of first importance without actually giving women the tools that they need to improve their lives.

6) What provision is being put in place for African women who may have fertility or other reproductive health issues which prevent them from conceiving, aside from an exploitative IVF, only available for the super-rich?

In the UK, where we have abundant access to contraception, over 185,000 abortions take place every year, mainly due to social reasons and a strain of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the country.

Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.

The only reason that people are so desperate for the Church to change her teachings in this area is to validate their own beliefs and lifestyle and to stop people from being influenced by their religious beliefs when choosing not to adopt contraception.

The acid test here, is given the recent advance in technology which allows for women to track their basal temperature and other fertility markers, and predict with a high degree of accuracy their fertile periods, does Melinda Gates and co consider this a valid form of avoiding pregnancy, and will they be making it available for women in Africa, in order that they can make a genuinely informed choice? We know that many women experience gruelling side effects and are unable to tolerate synthetic contraception. Is this being explained to them and what provision is made to monitor the long term health of women on contraceptives, especially if they don’t have easy access to a clinic? And if African women are not being offered ways of naturally monitoring their fertility, especially as they are the most environmentally friendly method, why is this?

Who could have the most to gain from shovelling pills, synthetic hormones and various pharma devices (which may or may not work) with little oversight or supervision, into poor women in the developing world? Just like who has the most to gain from promoting and weaning African infants onto powdered infant formula? The answer in both cases, is certainly not women and children themselves and we should be thankful that the Catholic church has no part in it.

23 thoughts on “Contraception in Africa Melinda Gates and the BBC

  1. Thank you for this post! Good summary of points, and you really get to the heart of it when you say:

    “Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.”

    It’s a shame that so many people are never even exposed to this line of thought.

  2. I’ve just read an article that telling me 1.7 million women are hospitalised and 29,000 women die EACH YEAR in Africa because they cannot access safe, legal abortion and are desperate enough to risk their lives.

    I see you have an opinion on when other people should or shouldn’t have sex, and also an opinion on the lack of every child’s need to be born into situations where they are both loved and wanted. Are we to deduce that the value of these women’s lives are nothing to you, simply because you imagine your invisible god wants almost all women to dedicate their lives to breeding?

    Stop trying to pretend there are logical reasons for this campaign against choice: this is a campaign to condemn the lives of the worlds poorest to further poverty at best and death at worst, a campaign to destroy planned and stable families and condemn children to instability. Your campaign is based on nothing more than religious dogma,and it’s dogma created by men who have never even lived in a traditional family structure. It’s a disgrace.

    1. Hi Violet – long time no speak. You can’t really help yourself on these threads can you.

      Re the article you’ve read, could you link to it, so we can see the source for this claim?

      I have not once expressed an opinion on when people should or shouldn’t have sex, (if you think this is the case, could you cite precisely where I said such a thing) merely that people need to realise that responsible sexual behaviour is not simply a case of using contraception.

      I also haven’t expressed an opinion the lack of every child’s ‘need’ to born into situations where they are both loved and wanted. Again, could you cite where in my post you have found such an opinion.

      I would agree that every child needs to be loved, but an unplanned for pregnancy does not automatically mean that any resulting child will not be loved, even if the parents hadn’t initially wanted to have a child. I would also argue that the right to life surpasses all other rights and that in the vast majority of cases, children are not subject to abuse simply because they were not planned for, but a host of other factors, which are not linked to a mother’s lack of contraception.

      Stop attempting to put words into my mouth that I have not said. You are wildly mistaken if you think I have an agenda to destroy planned and stable families – actually it’s the futile attempt to sever the link between procreation and sex which does just that very thing. Stop attempting to impose your form of ideological colonisation on a foreign country. Your ideology is nothing more than wishing to adopt a paternalistic approach to poor black women and stop them from breeding by any means necessary. That you want women with little education to be coerced into having contraceptive devices into their body is an absolute disgrace and infringes their dignity.

      I’ve allowed you one comment, however, I’m afraid any further ones will be blocked as clearly you are not open to reason and are unable to comprehend what has been written. Sadly your vision is clouded with a very palpable contempt and ugly prejudice.

      1. I completely understand that you don’t want to information that undermines your argument on public display on your page. So, for your private viewing, if you can bear to read it, I’ve answered your questions.

        Re the article you’ve read, could you link to it, so we can see the source for this claim?

        Here’s the link to the source:
        https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/nov/12/abortion-africa-health

        And a WHO factsheets with figures from a few years ago:
        http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/75173/1/WHO_RHR_12.01_eng.pdf

        You can find more recent estimates (with references) here:
        https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-abortion-africa

        “In Africa, according to the most recent estimates, at least 9% of maternal deaths (16,000) annually were due to unsafe abortion.
        About 1.6 million women in the region are treated annually for complications from unsafe abortion.”

        I have not once expressed an opinion on when people should or shouldn’t have sex, (if you think this is the case, could you cite precisely where I said such a thing)

        When you say “sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk” – you are giving a clear opinion on when you think people should have sex. Are you afraid to openly clarify that as a campaigner on Catholic families doctrines that you think sex should only be within marriage and, even then, only when people are happy to raise a child as a consequence? Honestly, the fact that you challenge my statement on an obvious part of your belief statement is odd to say the least, and points to the underhanded methods in terms of hiding true intent that go on in these discussions.

        You are wildly mistaken if you think I have an agenda to destroy planned and stable families

        Okay, I’ll clarify that the obvious result of your misdirected campaign to force women into giving birth to any fertilised egg, is destroying opportunities for people to have children in a planned fashion. I appreciate your religion believes that by attempting to convince people only to have sex within a breeding heterosexual marriage, planned families will be achieved by the god deciding when they have children. But for the rest of us living in reality, we’d rather use the tools available to us to plan for children when we’re in a position to best provide for them.

        In summary, do what you want with your own life, but don’t campaign to restrict the options available to any women in any part of the world.

      2. Firstly the links which you have hastily assembled are 7 years old. However to address your claims about deaths linked to unsafe abortion, the estimates of “unsafe” abortions are inflated, largely because of the way the term is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has an “operational definition” equating unsafe abortions with illegal ones, or ones which take place in countries with restrictive laws regarding abortion.

        In terms of total maternal mortality, the relative percentage linked to abortions has remained largely steady at an estimated 13%. Maternal ortality overall has declined, and mortality associated with abortion has declined along with it, in spite of the increased percentage of abortions classified as unsafe. Furthermore, abortion-related mortality has decreased dramatically in Latin America compared to Africa, although the two regions both account for the highest levels of “unsafe” abortion worldwide. Much of this discrepancy in mortality is attributed to improved medical infrastructure in Latin America, not liberalization of abortion laws. Improve overall health care, as I have argued, then unsafe abortion rates will plummet as evidenced in countries like Chile and Malawi which have very low maternal mortality rates, compared to say, liberal South Africa.

        The Guttamacher Institute is closely related to and indeed part-funded by Planned Parenthood therefore they cannot be taken as being a source of unbiased information.

        “you are giving a clear opinion on when you think people should have sex.” Are you afraid to openly clarify that as a campaigner on Catholic families doctrines that you think sex should only be within marriage and, even then, only when people are happy to raise a child as a consequence? Honestly, the fact that you challenge my statement on an obvious part of your belief statement is odd to say the least, and points to the underhanded methods in terms of hiding true intent that go on in these discussions.

        I’m not afraid of anything, however I challenged your statement because it read something into my blogpost that was not there. Advocating for sexual behaviour change as the way to overcome unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, is not actually telling people when they should have sex.

        Your determination to make this argument very personal and about me and my beliefs, smearing me as ‘odd’ or intimating that I am afraid demonstrates that you are deeply uncomfortable with the facts.

        Honestly I think the fact that you attempt to attack me on the premise of my faith is underhand and disingenuous. I am not telling anyone when they should have sex. Saying that I believe that sex ought to be confined to a loving permanent, faithful and lifelong relationship is not telling anyone, let alone even married couples when to have sex and stating the ideal is not the same thing as telling specific people what to do.

        The fact is that if you are fertile and are going to engage in sex, regardless of whether or not you use contraception, you need to be alert to the fact that a child may result. Abortion, the taking of an unborn child’s life ought not to be the cost of being able to have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want.

        Okay, I’ll clarify that the obvious result of your misdirected campaign to force women into giving birth to any fertilised egg, is destroying opportunities for people to have children in a planned fashion. I appreciate your religion believes that by attempting to convince people only to have sex within a breeding heterosexual marriage, planned families will be achieved by the god deciding when they have children. But for the rest of us living in reality, we’d rather use the tools available to us to plan for children when we’re in a position to best provide for them.

        Nice try with the euphemisms Violet, but let’s make this clear. That fertilised egg is a HUMAN LIFE. Biologically and scientifically. I appreciate that your creed wishes to dehumanise some human life as being as lesser value than others and deny all the evidence about stable outcomes for children raised by both biological parents living in a permanent faithful relationship and that the tools you wish to use, involve foeticide, injecting the heart of an unborn baby with potassium chloride to kill them and then either dismember them internally before sucking them out, or forcing a woman to give birth a deceased child, and most of us civilised people, find these tools objectionable and immoral.

        In summary, do want you want with your own life, but don’t impose your values on poorer women in the developing world and don’t campaign to take the lives of other human beings because you ascribe a lesser value to them.

      3. If my figures are inaccurate, please do correct them and quote your reliable source. I have no idea why you claim death or serious injury by unsafe abortion figures can be inflated by including unsafe abortion figures. Abortion-relating mortality figures may well decrease due to the availability of reliable abortifacients online – that doesn’t make the criminalising of abortion any less concerning.

        I advocate for sexual behaviour change too, in fact I have several posts about the importance of taking sex seriously and the importance of working towards lowering the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. The difference is that I never campaign to deny women the right to choose what is best for them and their family at any point in their lives.

        The fact is that if you are fertile and are going to engage in sex, regardless of whether or not you use contraception, you need to be alert to the fact that a child may result.

        Agreed. But be aware that many people use contraception effectively (I used condoms for 15 years before choosing to have children and conceiving within two months on each occasion). Also be honest enough to admit that a developing fetus isn’t anywhere approaching sentient until at least 20 weeks, and the vast majority of abortions happen before this period – that’s no pain and no awareness, only the ‘what ifs’ of the average monthly menstruation (unless you believe invisible creator gods are implanting souls on conception).

        The reason I bring your religion into this argument is because I know it underpins every keystroke. However much you attempt to separate this argument from your religious dogma, its foundation in your world view is key to your passion on this subject. And your passion to force women to conceive and given birth to unplanned, unwanted children, is a tradegy for many lives.

        I’m not campaigning to impose values, I’m arguing to allow women to have freedom of choice, in a world where not everyone shares your religious beliefs. Can you truly not see the difference?

      4. Nobody is campaigning for women not to have freedom of choice. What the post was about, was whether the Catholic church should change her doctrine and the problems/issues about assuming that introducing contraception will solve the problems of poverty.

        I maintain that it won’t and I also maintain that there are very serious ethical issues about setting up mobile clinics to offer women long acting reversible contraceptives, especially as we are seeing evidence that the ramifications and consequences of this ‘choice’ is not fully explained.

        I believe that there are far better uses of aid money

  3. A few questions..

    – if contraception use in the UK ceased, do you think the amount of unprotected sex would go up or down? How would that affect the number of unplanned pregnancies?
    – if contraception in the UK stopped and all sex became unprotected, what do you think will happen to the number of STIs?

    Can you seriously argue that the answers to the above questions are going to be lower than currently?

    contraception, specifically condoms, is a highly effective method of reducing instances of STI and pregnancy. How you seriously suggest that withdrawing them from use is a good thing?

    1. Why do you think I am campaigning for contraception to be withdrawn in the UK and all sex to be unprotected? What is clear however, especially when you look at the studies when the morning after pill was given free to all teens in a particular area, it had no difference on the teenage pregnancy rate and was associated with higher rates of STIs. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167629610001505 and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2012.00498.x/abstract

      Long acting reversible contraceptives seem to be the method of choice for most and of course they do not protect against STIs. What is needed is severe behavioural change. Most people dislike using condoms for a multitude of reasons.

      1. I think there’s been a misunderstand. I don’t think you’re campaigning for contraception to be withdrawn from the UK. I used the example of our being withdrawn to show why it’s introduction to other places is a good thing.

      2. You are not comparing like with like. It’s fine for contraception to be available on the free market. I just question whether or not there’s a compelling case for it to be introduced to African women in a way that seems close to coercion.

  4. Just out of curiosity. I live in South Africa so I have a bit of understanding as to what goes on here.
    May I ask please, are any of your reasons motivated in any way by your religious convictions?

    1. Given that my blog is obviously a Catholic blog, then of course my views are influenced by my faith, however the blogpost I wrote (which was addressing the specific question of whether the Catholic Church should change her teaching on contraception) actually need not make any recourse to religious arguments.

      There are plenty of decent non-religious reasons as to why it is misguided to impose contraception on Africa.

      Oh and some of my good friends are from South Africa too, but no doubt they’ll have an entirely different perspective to you, especially as they were deeply involved in crisis pregnancy work.

      1. blockquote>There are plenty of decent non-religious reasons as to why it is misguided to impose contraception on Africa.

        When you use the term ”impose” would you use the same term if you were referring to Europe, for example, and if not, could you offer your reasons?

      2. Europe doesn’t have aid organisations and governments desperately lining up saying how important it is that contraception is provided to all women there and claiming that there is an unmet need. As Obianuju was saying on BBC1 and indeed says frequently, African culture is not predisposed to contraception and abortion.

        What Europe does have however, is a demographic crisis which it clearly wishes to export to Africa.

      3. Not having seen the BBC Doccie … cannot comment on Obianju’s POV.
        Do you agree that ”enabling women” (encouraging their full independence and full equality ) across Africa would help: a) the dreadful levels of poverty
        b) allow them more personal choice regarding whether they wished to use contraception free from the influence of tribalism, largely paternalistic culture and any latent religious influence?
        ( such as we see in countries where women are subject to brutal genital mutilation?)

      4. I definitely believe in empowering and enabling women to lift people out of poverty but in order to do this, basic infrastructure needs to be addressed. Surely this needs to be addressed before contraception and I also believe that the best way to empower women when it comes to fertility choices is to give them the whole gamut of options. Contraception is not right for everyone, particularly not physically, you only need to do a brief google on the issues surrounding the nuvaring method and many many women are not suited to hormones.

        Natural planning methods are far far superior, especially when they enable the male to take responsibility and work with the women, rather than putting all of the responsibility on her shoulders.

  5. “Natural planning methods are far far superior, especially when they enable the male to take responsibility and work with the women, rather than putting all of the responsibility on her shoulders.”

    As a relatively mature woman nearing the end of my cycles (I hope), it’s finally dawned on me that I am mainly interested in sex when I am fertile. Are you suggesting that women avoid having sex when at the time of the month when it brings them most pleasure? Sex when we’re not in the mood for a 24% failure rate! It’s an absurd suggestion.

    Condoms are allegedly 2% failure rate, yet in 15 years I never experienced a failure. For women who aren’t interested in messing up their hormones, like me, condoms are an obvious choice. They have the added advantage of getting rid of undesirable partners i.e. ones who have little real interest and refuse to wear one.

    1. Personally I don’t need to be in a fertile period of the month for sex to be pleasurable. That seems an absurd suggestion!

      I know several people for whom condoms have failed and the 2% failure rate is with perfect use. Between 10 and 12% of people who are using only condoms to avoid pregnancy will experience an unplanned pregnancy within a year.

  6. I think it is a shame when human life is trashed so easily under the guise of abortion as cure for all worlds woe’s.

    If you follow the money, that will lead to the true motives behind anti life campaigners.

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