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We can be transformative without harming others

Melinda Gates wrote an essay for Fortune, posted ironically on Valentine’s Day, titled, “I wouldn’t be where I am today without contraception.” She tells of her experiences visiting communities all over the world for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hearing repeatedly of women “getting pregnant too young, too old, and too often for their bodies to handle.” As she reflected on this she realized how different her life has been, and says her use of contraception has been “transformative.”

“It’s no accident that my three kids were born three years apart — or that I didn’t have my first child until I’d finished graduate school and devoted a decade to my career at Microsoft. My family, my career, my life as I know it are all the direct result of contraceptives. And now, I realize how lucky that makes me,” she wrote.

It’s no accident that my three kids were born three to four years apart, either. And that I had my first one after getting my degree, starting my career and getting married. None of that is due to contraceptives, however, but the choice to live out my sexuality according to the design of its creator. Yes, that means I chose not to have sex before marriage, which saved me from not only unwanted pregnancy but also likely a whole lot of grief and possibly disease. And I chose natural family planning to space my children, was able to easily do that as my husband and I discerned, and went all the way from puberty to menopause without the need of contraceptives to shut down my fertility.

So Melinda and I share the end result of three children arriving when we desired them. But I believe I have gained a few things that she may have missed out on.

I have never experienced an unpleasant or even dangerous side effect from a contraceptive. Better still, I have a husband who would never want me exposed to them.

Because of my use of natural family planning, I gained an appreciation for my body and my health. Fertility cycles are much easier to interpret when you are healthy, and so I was easily led to prioritize healthy lifestyle habits, exercise and good nutrition. This has benefitted not just my own health but that of my family as well. Contraception would never had provided me the incentive for these positive lifestyle choices.

I have a happy marriage of over 32 years. While acknowledging that many factors contribute to that, I know without a doubt that our decision to use natural family planning is a key one. Because we experienced times of periodic abstinence when we were fertile and wanted to postpone the next pregnancy, we were led to build up our intimacy in other, non-sexual ways. We learned that we didn’t need to always make love in order to feel love or express love. Contraceptives wouldn’t have helped us with this. In fact, they could have made it harder because when sex is always available it becomes easy to use that as the default mode of intimacy.

I understand sex better thanks to using natural family planning. This is because I experience sexuality as it was designed by God. Because we didn’t use contraceptives, we were able to give ourselves to each other completely, as God designed, nothing between us, nothing held back. This has helped me understand and experience unconditional love, which not only helps my marriage but my relationship with God. Natural family planning taught me authentic love, which is why I found it ironic that Melinda’s essay praising contraception was published on Valentine’s Day. Contraceptives actually work against authentic love because they work against God’s design for love.

I don’t write this to criticize Melinda and her choices, but to say that her choice is not the only one. The Gates Foundation actually does an unbelievable amount of humanitarian work. They toil to provide immunizations, to lower infant and maternal mortality rates, to end malnutrition and to promote breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, they also consider access to contraceptives a key component of their work. They have a goal to provide 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020. (In 2015, family planning services comprised 7 percent of the foundation’s budget, or $144 million.) Yes, the ability to plan a family is critical to alleviating poverty. But to just push contraceptives that cost a lot of money and bring side effects and risks to a lot of women is unfortunate.

I imagine choice is important to Melinda. But the 120 million women in their sights aren’t going to be given the choice to choose natural family planning. They will instead be served up the latest in hormonal contraception, probably of the long-lasting variety, and many will face unwanted side effects and some even harm to their health because of them, with little to no remedy.

Modern methods of natural family planning have been proven to be as effective or more effective to all methods of contraception except sterilization. They have been successfully taught in developing countries to poor populations. The women the Gates Foundation wants to help deserve to know there are viable options for family planning besides contraceptives. Options that are free to use and free from risks and that can help relationships in ways beyond the sexual.

Natural family planning has the effectiveness of contraceptives without the risks, brings other benefits that contraception can’t, and is practically free (after the cost of instruction). Seems like something Melinda and her foundation should be interested in.

— Ann Gundlach
Director of Marketing & Communication

To learn more about CCL’s natural family planning instruction, visit www.ccli.org.