Of Philanthropy and Population Control: An Open Letter to Bill Gates

God bless you, Mr. Gates. You made a pile of dough, and now you’re trying to spread the love—like your foundation’s efforts to fight disease and poverty throughout the developing world. You’re making possible tremendous change for the good—keep it up! The world admires and applauds you.

Here’s the problem, though: In addition to underwriting tons of initiatives that directly and indirectly address disease and poverty, the Gates Foundation seems inordinately interested in “family planning”—a euphemism, as I’m sure your know, for birth control.

That’s a problem because people might get the idea that the two things are connected—the fighting disease and poverty thing on the one hand, and the family planning agenda thing on the other.

Take your recent Wall Street Journal article about polio eradication in India. What you and your foundation have done and are doing there is magnificent, and your commitment to underwriting such important work is truly edifying. But you let the cat out of the bag with this opening statement:

Our foundation began working in India a decade ago, at a time when many feared that the country would become a flashpoint for HIV/AIDS. Since then, we have expanded into other areas, including vaccines, family planning and agricultural development [emphasis added].

Agricultural development? Excellent. And vaccines? Again, excellent, especially with reference to the successes you’ve seen in India.

But why family planning? What does that have to do with combating disease? Family planning only helps with that when you’re talking about condoms, and we both know your organization is into lots more birth control methods than that. The Gates Foundation advocates the use of contraceptives akin to Depo-Provera shots and Norplant implants. These are abortifacient drugs that are known to be dangerous to women. In fact, Norplant was outlawed in the U.S. in 2002. Distributing a Norplant equivalent overseas sends a distressing message at best.

That’s bad enough, but there’s more. By linking development with family planning, you leave yourself open to the accusation that you’re going to battle sickness by shrinking the number of the sick—or that you want to reduce destitution by reducing the destitute population. Less people? Less poverty and disease—problems solved!

Perhaps such censure wouldn’t be relevant if the family planning services you underwrite were truly voluntary, no strings attached—you know, like if it were really clear that you just wanted to offer impoverished parents the help they need to avoid more mouths to feed.

But your foundation’s ulterior motives are hard to camouflage. The Family Planning Strategy Overview on the Gates Foundation website pays lip service to “voluntary family planning” as “one of the great public health advances of the past century.” However, there’s also disturbing language that hints at a vision for something a bit more compulsory:

In selected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, our strategy aims to:

•  Increase the use of modern contraceptives.…

 Introduce innovative, low-cost solutions that can expand the supply of and demand for family planning products and services [emphases added]

Disturbing aims like these correspond with some disturbing associations your foundation maintains. For example, the Gates Foundation partners with the U.N. in working toward that body’s Millennium Development Goals—like this one, which includes a benchmark that shows there’s still plenty of “work” to be done:

Target 5.B:
Achieve universal access to reproductive health….

  The large increase in contraceptive use in the 1990s was not matched in the 2000s.

One more concern along these lines: Abortion. Your foundation’s Family Planning Strategy mentions “fewer” abortions as something laudable and achievable. Yet, at the same time, the Foundation seems to be involved in promoting more abortion, not less—like at that conference in Ethiopia earlier this month, where there was a workshop entitled “Efforts to Implement Policies that Expand Access to Safe Abortion.” You can’t have it both ways.

The real threat here was identified by Pope Paul VI way back in 1968:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this [contraceptive] power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law…. Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.

At the time, I imagine many wrote off the Pope as a crank, but his warning isn’t so far-fetched these days. Case in point: the Chinese experience of enforced one-child policies, with associated skewed demographics, forced abortions, and suppression of reproductive dissent. You don’t want to be party to creating that kind of repressive situation in India, do you? Especially when even China is backing off totalitarian family planning these days.

Anyway, I’ve made my point, but I want to leave you with an image to ponder. G.K. Chesterton wrote an essay about social reform and contraception in which he drew an absurd comparison between birth control and decapitation. Chesterton then made this assertion:

But anybody ought to be able to see that if we once simplify things by head cutting we can do without hair-cutting; that it will be needless to practise dentistry on the dead or philanthropy on the unborn—or the unbegotten. So it is not a provision for our descendants to say that the destruction of our descendants will render it unnecessary to provide them with anything.

What we need is not fewer people, but fewer selfish people—not smaller populations, but bigger hearts. And bigger hearts are cultivated primarily by exhortation and example—by reminding folks of goodness and generosity and sacrifice through persuasive discourse and lived witness. Your own example is a fabulous model for these things. Please don’t tarnish it with outdated notions connecting social progress with family planning. They didn’t work in the 1960s. Or the 1970s. They won’t work now either.

Instead, take heed your own words in that Wall Street Journal article you wrote: “What some call a weakness can be a source of great strength.” Babies are not the enemy. Indeed, contrary to neo-Malthusian naysayers everywhere, the next generation is this generation’s hope—far from being a burden to avoid, kids carry the future before them. You touched on this idea when describing India’s vaccination initiative, and your words would make a great motto for your foundation: “The heart of the plan was a simple and inspiring mission: to find the children.” To find the children, not to get rid of them. Craft a strategy for your foundation around that idea, and you’ll accomplish even more remarkable things.

Again, thanks for all the real good you’re making possible in the world, and for your example of selfless giving. I hope many imitate your abundant generosity.

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared November 24, 2013 on the author’s blog entitled “One Thousand Words A Week” and is reprinted with permission.

Richard Becker


Richard Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He blogs regularly at God-Haunted Lunatic.

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  • James

    Melinda Gates was taught by nuns in the 1970s. The nuns who taught her fully support her program.

    The problem is that she cannot see the issue beyond the old power struggles between women religious and the Vatican. Viewed from this frame, the issue is pretty simple for her: Contraception is good for women and the Vatican is only entity standing in the way because they are only interested in power. Thus the “no controversy” tagline.

    This (incorrect) oversimplification blinds her to what many population control agencies are actually doing in these countries.

    • John O’Neill

      Amen to that; Melinda Gates the Americanized Catholic is the power behind the Gates billion dollar birth control blitz and no doubt many American nuns are in full support of this rich couple.

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  • awareofitall

    Vaccines and agricultural development have the exact same goal as “family planning”. The toxic stuff in vaccines and gmo’s see to it that the same effect is reached — depopulation. Gates spoke of it himself in many a TED talk he gave.

  • NE-Catholic

    Excellent article, wonderful recommendations – unfortunately there isn’t a snowball’s chance that Gates (Bill or Melinda) will heed your advice. After all, as pointed out, Melinda is a ‘Catholic’ – the ‘nuns’ that taught embrace her programs including abortion as do many American ‘Catholic’ politicians, academics, entertainers, clergy, etc. – with no clear effort made to correct them.

    Oh, yes – we get the once or twice a month prayer for the unborn – but it is much better to forgo any ‘nasty, ideological’ discussion against abortion, sexual deviancy, irresponsibility, etc. to focus on supporting socialism, class warfare, forced income transfer as part of identifying and embracing our own, personal definition of what is right, moral, good, self-fulfilling, etc. If 2 out of every 2 statements out of Rome, must be explained and interpreted to reconcile it with traditional Catholic teachings – something is out of whack!

  • Rational Thought

    Overpopulation leads to rampant disease and famine. Not rocket science. Family planning is a critical part of any organization that legitimately wants to reduce disease and famine. Not everyone plays stupid like the Catholic Church on that fact.

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      Population decline – i.e., western Europe, Russia, Scandanavia – leads to massive labor shortages, collapsing welfare states with shrinking tax bases and overly taxed younger citizens, who can’t carry the load. Freely available contraceptives lead to easygoing sexual predation, casual hook-ups, widespread venereal disease and lifelong psychological impediments to genuine sexual intimacy. Not rocket science.

      • Hugh_Oxford

        Western society in a paragraph.

    • Guest

      Hi Irrational,

      The Church speaks the truth. Relativism and utilitarianism are forms of tyranny. The solution to poverty is to not eliminate humans. Try and be a little rational and authentic.

    • Adam__Baum

      Overpopulation is a myth, expoded by the late, great Julian Simon.

    • Paul-FatherOfEight

      …same irrational thought that a Sanger, Kevorkian, Gosnell ,etc. are so passionate about. Only God can control population… ask Noah.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Consider the case of Hong Kong.

      In the 1950s, when China fell to the Communists, Hong Kong was flooded with hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees. Lacking natural resources and utterly dependent on the mainland for water and food, the colony’s situation had deteriorated so badly that a local UN official declared that it could only survive through massive Western aid and the resettlement of refugees elsewhere. The British entitled the lead chapter in their annual Hong Kong yearbook, “A Problem of People.”

      Well, Hong Kong experienced the greatest economic boom in its history. Today it supports a population of about seven million people — more than five times the number the government declared to be Hong Kong’s optimum “carrying capacity” back in 1954.

  • stella

    Dear “Rational Thought”,

    Please name ONE instance in recorded history when overpopulation led to rampant disease and famine.

    According to Wikipedia, “Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 are believed to have originated in non-human primates in West-central Africa and were transferred to humans in the early 20th century.[4] HIV-1 appears to have originated in southern Cameroon through the evolution of SIV(cpz), a simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) that infects wild chimpanzees (HIV-1 descends from the SIVcpz endemic in the chimpanzee subspecies Pan troglodytes troglodytes).[189][190] The closest relative of HIV-2 is SIV(smm), a virus of the sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys atys), an Old World monkey living in coastal West Africa (from southern Senegal to western Côte d’Ivoire).”

    The Black Death, according to Wikipedia: “The plague disease, generally thought to be caused by Yersinia pestis, is enzootic (commonly present) in populations of fleas carried by ground rodents, including marmots, in various areas including Central Asia, Kurdistan, Western Asia, Northern India and Uganda.”

    Famines occur when natural weather events have adverse affects on the growing and harvesting of crops.

    Nothing about overpopulation here. Which leads me to consider this: Is not “overpopulation” a case of personal opinion rather than truth?


  • wjw

    “What we need is not fewer people, but fewer selfish people.” I think that this statement is true, but even within the context of the paragraph and article, I am unable to discern whether the author is implicitly addressing the attitudes of men and women engaged in casual sex or whether he is implicitly addressing a wider audience — you and I as well as the Gates family, perhaps.
    If the former, I am inclined to agree, though I think that we need to be careful in making statements accusing our brothers and sisters of selfishness: is it really fair to ask a single mother struggling to survive on minimum wage to carry a child to term when she does not have the support of her family or of a church and when our foster care and adoption system is so corrupt? By no means do I think it right that she choose to abort the child, but if we are going to accuse her of selfishness and boldly state that she ought not abort her child, we ought to work doubly hard to ensure that she has access to a living wage, to safe housing, to a charitable community of faith, and to peace of mind in knowing that if she chooses to give up custody, her child will be cared for. If we want so much to foster a culture in which abortion and birth control are seen and known for the tragic losses they are, we must make it such that they cannot be presented as a solution to a problem; only then can we begin, I think, to effectively insist that children are not a problem in the first place.
    If the latter, I am still inclined to agree: we as a Church and as lay people need to pursue a more fulsome approach to the “family planning” and abortion issue by being liberal with our time, prayer, energy, and material gifts so as to combat the economic and social injustices that have allowed the culture of death in which we live — and which is currently being promulgated by the United States government — to thrive.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    • Kevin McCormick

      While I suspect I would agree with your implied premise, that caring for the poor and vulnerable is an essential component of our faith, I’m not sure that the comparison that you set up is legitimate. There are a host of issues surrounding the person you offer as an example, the single mother, with low sexual morality being primary among them. Irresponsibility (probably more so for the absent father, but not necessarily) and selfishness are intertwined as well. But none of these affects the validity of the right to life. Once a child is conceived, the right to life is not dependent upon whether or not that life is convenient or difficult. Your image of a supporting community is beautiful and I pray that we all can strive to create such communities, especially flowing from our parishes.
      Yet we must remember the basic, immutable fact that it is not ours to take a new life, no matter how difficult it may seem to welcome that new person into our world. Ultimately that new life is as you are, with an equal right to be here. There are many things in our culture that make our lives more difficult than they need to be, many of which could be changed by the work of faithful Christians. But the morality of the fifth commandment does not change simply because the circumstances are less than ideal–they were less than ideal when the commandment was given. Not that we shouldn’t pursue the goals that you mention. But they are not directly connected to the right to life and we need to be careful to make this distinction when discussing the issue. Yes, it is really fair to expect a single mother to carry her child to term because there isn’t a morally licit alternative.

      • wjw

        I wholeheartedly agree that abortion never constitutes a morally licit option, and I would never argue otherwise, so please forgive me for not making that sufficiently clear. I am simply suggesting that if we are going to uphold the truth that every child has a right to life and is precious in the eyes of God and His Church, we must act accordingly, and work for the safe and happy upbringing of the child as well as for the care of the body and soul of the mother. Hence, when I spoke of what is fair for us to expect of the unwed mother in my example, I imagined that the question was one raised by her, and by women in similar situations of disenfranchisement and even abuse who become pregnant.
        Furthermore, I understand that promiscuity plays a role in a vast number of these “unplanned” pregnancies that are then tragically terminated in one way or another. Again, by no means would I suggest that promiscuity on the parts of men or women is morally acceptable. However, if we look at the wider culture, sexuality is being routinely and aggressively presented as a form of entertainment without cost, a diversion. This is wholly inconsistent with the healthy sexual morality of the Church, which if more widely embraced would doubtless do much more good, even, then effectively bringing to an end the use of birth control and the practice of abortion. It seems to me, however, that if we are going to rightly accuse any man or woman of promiscuity — and given the cultural climate in which we live — we must also, simultaneously, act to reform the culture, and what this would entail would vary greatly.

        I have no intention of absolving the sins of others: that is not my role or responsibility. It is however my role and responsibility to show grace, and I think that here, that means attending carefully to the brokenness of the world and to the people in it, even as I recognize our mutual sinfulness and guilt.
        I really and earnestly believe that we must go beyond pointing the finger and proclaiming sin and then demanding virtue. We must, in addition, walk alongside our brothers and sisters.You see, for me it is not good enough (enough, mind you — lives would be saved, and that is a blessing indeed) to see birth control made inaccessible and to see abortion clinics systematically shut down. I think it much preferable to see the Church and all of her people working to nurture a culture in which there is no demand for birth control, and in which abortion clinics shut down for lack of business. In order to accomplish this end, and with the firm intention of truly caring for “the least of these,” I think it necessary that we work to affirm a healthy sexual ethic and to affirm the blessedness of the poor by their care.

        • Kevin McCormick

          It is true that as Christians we must work for the good of others and not simply spout moral platitudes. However, Jesus’ first word of ministry was “Repent.” The difficulty that we face now is that the vast majority of people in the world, Christian and non-Christian alike, no longer recognize contraception as evil. This despite the fact that for 19 centuries all of Christianity recognized it as such. The result of this disobedience to the faith is that the host of scourges that plague our culture, not least of which is abortion. Fifty years ago the Church was urging the world not to embrace contraception because of the pain it would lead to. The Church was mocked, laughed at and ignored. Now here we are with most secular leaders, Christians and indeed even some priests who refuse to acknowledge the evil of contraception and in many cases are actively promoting it. It is difficult to call “Repent” when the response is generally “Of what?” Thus the need to remind others of the evil of both contraception and abortion. We would be foolish to believe that removing these two evils from the world would suddenly bring about unfettered joy. Our enemy is always hard at work. We must always minister to those in need in whatever way that we can. But with regard to the message of the gospel, the first word must be “Repent.”

    • Rick Becker

      Thanks for your thoughtful response and observations, wjw. My reference to “fewer selfish people” was more along the lines of your second interpretation–i.e., that a holistic and truly humane approach to population and poverty would begin with fostering greater generosity among those blessed with more than they need. It’s what the Holy Father explicitly refers to in his new apostolic exhortation, and it’s what Bill Gates has, in a sense, modeled for us.

      I can see now that my words certainly lent themselves to your first interpretation as well, although I would’ve been much more careful to avoid accusatory overtones had I intended that interpretation. In any case, you’re right that the Church’s efforts in building a Culture of Life must include ensuring that all pregnant women have access to adequate resources–or, as Peter Maurin used to say, “to make that kind of society where it is easier for men to be good.”

      Among many other groups attempting to to do just that, I’d like to take this opportunity to plug the Women’s Care Center and Catholic Charities in my own community. They not only provide ultrasounds and prolife prenatal counseling and care, but also direct help and referrals to meet fundamental needs like food, shelter, and even education. This is the Gospel in action, and such organizations deserve our sacrificial financial support.

      Women’s Care Center: http://www.womenscarecenter.org/
      Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend: http://www.ccfwsb.org/our-services/pregnancy-services/

  • thebigdog

    Bill Gates: cool billionaire for a century — dork for all eternity.

  • truthwarrior

    bill gates is evil…. and vaccines are evil

  • truthwarrior

    and I cant think of anyone who admires him

  • Elat

    He is also spreading GMOs. He is committing some serious evil…

  • Susan Quinn

    “But why family planning? What does that have to do with combating disease?” The author is referring to something Gates wrote in the WSJ. One of the troll commenters over there regularly refers to pregnancy as a DISEASE or a DISABILITY based solely on this one criterion: if the woman decides she doesn’t WANT to be pregnant, the baby suddenly changes from a person with human dignity into a “disease.”
    This is what the Left believes.

  • Benedetti

    Bill and Melinda Gates need our prayers as much as anyone else. If Mr. Becker was truly interested in changing Bill Gates’s mind he would have done better to leave out the comments section. How do you plan to convert anyone with snide remarks from combox crusaders?

  • Michael Demers

    It’s freaky that so many extremely wealthy people push “population control.” Look up Warren Buffett and the Rockefellers.

  • Cary Michael Bogue

    Bill Gates has had deep family involvement with Planned Parenthood. The #1 Abortion Provider in the world!

  • ettm

    Brother Richard, I share your concern. Here is a blogpost I recently came across that I found interesting. May be we could share it with enough like-minded people to make a dent in a new onslaught on our values. God bless.

  • Jake M

    Thanks for this article; I had no idea that the Gates foundation is helping with population control, and am thrilled to hear it. Human sprawl is crowding out the rest of God’s creatures, and we are violating his mandate in Genesis to be good stewards of the earth and all of his handiwork.