I would like to start out by thanking you for hosting the London Summit on Family Planning. This week, because of you, governments in some of the areas with the least investment in family planning have pledged to double, triple, even quadruple their family planning budgets. Donor countries have pledged $2.6 billion to the global south. A few years ago, this would have been unimaginable.
Your foundation has tackled, in a big way, the problems no other large foundations were funding: diarrheal illness, pneumonia, vaccines, and maternal mortality. And now it has pledged over a half billion dollars for family planning services. This can’t have been easy for you, as a self-described practicing Catholic, although you join many other practicing Catholics who are driven by a vision of social justice.
It’s clear you’re passionate about this, and it’s clear you understand how access to contraception can improve the lives of women and their families. But I would like to invite you to dig deeper into this issue. You have stated, “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, to save their children’s lives and to give their families the best possible future.” But you cannot truly give women the power to control their lives if you do not acknowledge the human rights aspect of family planning.
Although you (and many others) frequently use the terms “family planning” and “contraception” interchangeably, they are not, in fact, the same. Contraception refers to methods to prevent pregnancy, and what you called a “Summit on Family Planning” was really a “Summit on Contraception”. Family planning is much broader; it acknowledges that women have the right to plan their families. Access to contraception is a key component, but so are access to abortion services, treatment for infertility, and pre-pregnancy care. And population control policies and contraceptive coercion, which haunt our past and continue in the present, must be acknowledged and fought against.
So we must talk about abortion, and we must talk about population control. Thank you for all you’ve done for the women of the world so far, and are planning to do in the future, and please continue to listen to women. If you ask the right questions, they will tell you stories about family members who died from unsafe abortions, friends who were sterilized without their consent, and neighbors who were rejected for being unable to conceive children. All you have to do is listen.