Birth control and disinformation: the risks of philanthropy
By Giulia Galeotti. Translated by Matthew Hoffman.
Some weeks ago, during a meeting organized in London by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, by the United Nations and by the British government, the wife of the founder of Microsoft announced that, during the next eight years, she will spend 450 million Euros to research new techniques of birth control, improve information regarding contraception and make services and devices available in the poorest countries of the planet, particularly Africa. In a CNN interview, Melinda Gates has stated that for her, a Catholic, giving to women improved access to contraception is a full-time job. And, to the Guardian, she has confided her anguish as a believer, conscious that the 450 million Euros represent a challenge to the Church hierarchy.
In reality the philanthropist is a little off-target, confused by bad information and by the stereotypes that persist regarding this topic. To still believe in a Catholic Church that, in opposition to condoms, allows women and children to die over its intransigent misogyny, is an unfounded and second-rate understanding.
As Paul VI wrote in Humane Vitae (perhaps the most striking victim of this kind of discussion), the Church is favorable to the natural regulation of fertility, namely to those methods based on listening to indications and messages provided by the body. To demonstrate that this does not involve Byzantine abstractions, but rather concrete and efficacious measurement, I recall the Australian couple John and Evelyn Billings, discoverers of the method of natural regulation of fertility called BOM (Billings Ovulation Method). Using this method, women can know if they are fertile or not, and based on that, can choose their sexual behavior. An example, little known but striking, of the success of BOM has been its adoption in China. The communist government of Peking was very interested in a method of regulation that cost nothing and didn’t damage the health of the woman, a method considered 98% reliable.
Along with the unfounded accusation of failure and poor results even today regarding the Billings method there is a widespread skepticism, if not a smile of condemnation for a discovery considered unscientific, prescientific, primitive, and terribly naive. It is a completely unfounded accusation, and widespread probably not by accident. The crux of the matter is that to the eyes of a certain portion of the world, the BOM is doubly inconvenient. First of all, it is a method that is simple to understand and easy to adopt. It can be managed in the autonomy and consciousness of women themselves, even those that are illiterate, and without any form of mediation. But secondly, and above all, its original and unpardonable sin resides in the fact that it is completely free, an aspect that, evidently, makes it very unpopular with the pharmaceutical industry, which, through chemical contraceptives, obtains enormous profits, as will others thanks to the philanthropy of Mrs. Gates.
Everyone is free to engage in charity as they choose. Not, however, to persist in disinformation, presenting things in a false manner. Otherwise, one runs the risk of engaging (perhaps sometimes naively) in politics of the Nestlé type. As is sadly well-known, that multinational has, in a clever and unjust way, furnished powdered milk to African women for their newborns, using free packages that last long enough to cause the mother’s natural milk to go away. At which point, the mother is obligated to purchase [the powdered milk] though publicity campaigns that present breastfeeding as barbaric, and the artificial means as modern and civilized, thanks also to psychological pressures of various types on the part of elusive doctors and nurses. Thus, they create a need, in the name of charity and for the purpose of profit. Not that this would be the intention of the 450 million Euros. However, in addition to the plans that have been announced, a little correct information would truly be beneficial. For everyone.
Published in L’Osservatore Romano, July 29, 2012.