“We are thirsty and they give us condoms! We are hungry and they offer us contraceptive pills! We are sick and they offer us the most modern techniques of abortion! We are naked and they lead us into the arms of sexual hedonism! We are imprisoned by poverty and they offer us sexual liberation! Silent tears roll down for Africa in a modern world that can neither see our pain nor hear our cry for help.” [i]

This poignant indictment of Western developmental aid efforts in Africa was written by Obianuju Ekeocha, an African woman and founder of Culture of Life Africa,[ii] in response to the recent International Conference On Family Planning (ICFP) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was sponsored in part by The Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health as well as abortion giants Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Maria Stopes International.

When Melinda Gates, a Catholic, announced the beginning of her grand initiative in 2012 to commit millions of dollars to support the spread of hormonal contraceptive use in Africa she claimed there was “no controversy” because her work would not advocate for abortion, and because contraceptive use should not be considered controversial. Yet only a year later she is leading the charge for legalized abortion in Africa. The ICFP offered at least six presentations that promoted abortion with titles like “Integrating Efforts to Improve Access to Safe Abortion with Expanding Access to Family Planning” and “Saving Lives and Respecting Rights Through Implementation of the WHO Safe Abortion”. [iii]

Ms. Gates states her motivation for these efforts is to reverse the tragically high maternal mortality rate of African women -- a noble goal. Yet utilizing contraception and abortion to combat deaths during pregnancy is akin to using starvation to fight obesity. Such a superficial approach ignores the root causes of maternal mortality such as the lack of properly equipped health care facilities, skilled health care providers, proper nutrition, clean water, and educational opportunities.

The countries of sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rate of forced child marriages in the world. One out of every nine girls is married by the time she is 15. These girls have no opportunity to continue their education and are essentially condemned to a life of poverty.[iv] Instead of promoting contraception and abortion to these young girls, those truly interested in improving maternal mortality rates should heed the results of the Koch Chilean Study. Analysis of data from Chilean public records over a course of 50 years found that increasing women’s education was critically linked to decreasing maternal mortality.[v] There was essentially no benefit from increased availability of abortion. The women of Africa would be better served through efforts to affirm their human dignity and transform a culture that views girls as mere chattel to be exchanged as part of an economic transaction. The young women of Africa need education more than they need contraception and abortion.

The misguided efforts of Melinda Gates and her associates to flood Africa with injectable hormonal contraception also carry grave health risks for African women. The Gates Foundation actually funded a study by the University of Washington that found contraception doubled the transmission rates of HIV.[vi] It makes no sense to introduce this increased risk of HIV infection in an area already plagued by AIDS and with inadequate medical infrastructure to support the subsequent need for increased testing and treatment.

Similarly, numerous studies have linked both hormonal contraception and abortion to an increased risk of breast cancer. A 2012 study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that the very contraception that Melinda Gates is pushing is associated with a doubling of the risk for invasive and aggressive breast cancer in young women.[vii] A meta-analysis of Chinese data just published in the journal Cancers Causes & Control found a significant link between breast cancer and abortion. There was a 44% increase in breast cancer risk after a single abortion. The risk increases with subsequent abortion with an 89% increase in breast cancer risk after three abortions.[viii] One must question the logic of markedly increasing the risk of a catastrophic disease like breast cancer in a region with minimal resources for mammograms and breast cancer treatment.

If the health of African women was truly the central concern of the organizers and participants at the ICFP, they would be building clinics and training medical providers. They would be building schools and fighting for the rights of African women to be educated. They would be engineering clean water sources and ensuring healthy food supplies. Why, then, do they persist in imposing the risky medical strategies of abortion and contraception on African women?

Perhaps they are blinded by their ideology and either cannot see or willfully choose to ignore the tragic consequences of their initiatives. Their actions suggest that their reproductive health programs are less about improving health and more about thwarting reproduction. Their Malthusian concerns about population growth embolden them to pick and choose who will be allowed to have children, and they have judged African women as unworthy.

Returning again to the words of Obianuju Ekeocha:  “The African women deserve to stand proudly among the women of the world within the context of their own cultural sensitivities and values. They deserve to be recognised in the full esteem and stature of their radiant African femininity, beauty, and dignity that is firmly rooted in a vibrant culture of life and family.” It is therefore incumbent upon all those who respect the sanctity and dignity of all human life to stand in support of African women and condemn these efforts to render them sterile. We must expose the ruse that portrays population control as health care. We must counter the work of those who peddle death with healthy initiatives that promote life.

* * *

Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, an international pro-life organization. She writes for HLI's Truth and Charity Forum.


[i] http://catholiconline.com/international/international_story.php?id=53208

[ii] http://www.cultureoflifeafrica.com/

[iii] http://ww.fpconference2013.org/

[iv] http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/11/25/245973216/can-child-marriages-be-stopped

[v] http://www.aaplog.org/international-issues/koch-chilean-s tudy-decreased-maternal-mortality-linked-to-womens-education/

[vi] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/235463.php

[vii] http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2012/02/25/0008-5472.CAN-11-4064.abstract

[viii] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10552-013-0325-7