The contrast is striking. On one side, we have those telling us that there are too many people in the world, and that for the sake of “women’s health” and “sustainability,” abortion and contraception must be basic rights—perhaps even an obligation for some—if we are to achieve sustainability in this world. On the other side are nations who are ahead of the curve, already achieving the so-called “success” of population reduction, that are in a panic to reverse course.
Representing the champions of “women’s health” is one of the wealthiest women in the world, Melinda Gates, whose “No Controversy” campaign has already raised over $4.6 billion to create new forms of birth control to push onto the more than 120 million women in the developing world. Mrs. Gates, who seems genuine when she claims that her Catholic faith leads her to defy Catholic teaching in this enormous effort to prevent births, has thus far been effective at uniting Western governments, the world’s largest abortion providers, relief organizations and developing world governments toward this goal.
One would think that if the issue was “women’s health,” that there would be more discussion among these elites about the health risks for women in their proposed solution to poverty. We might expect to hear a serious discussion about how, exactly, Catholic teaching can lead one to see children as the biggest threat to progress for developing nations. We might hear why they think contraception is more important than education, training qualified birth attendants and building hospitals in the great effort to reduce the problem of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Just as important, we would expect input from countries who have already achieved what Mrs. Gates and her partners seem bent on doing – actually reducing the population. The “No Controversy” gang should go beyond the voices they hear who only seem to tell them how desperately they need contraception. Instead, they should listen to those who are scrambling to reverse what they thought was a promise of progress, only to learn that population decline comes with terrible costs that never seem to be considered by the champions of “progress.”
South Korea is to many around the world a model of progress – a wealthy nation with a well-educated citizenry and plenty of opportunities for employment and upward mobility. This seems true especially in contrast with North Korea, whose murderous and corrupt leaders have succeeded in driving the nation’s economy right into the ground. With this contrast in such proximity, South Korea is lionized as a beacon of free market and democratic success.
But we need to look closer. Over the last several years a realization is setting in that South Korea’s progress has come at the expense of the next generation, as certain attitudes in the culture have left the country with an extremely low birth rate.
Superficially, this would seem to indicate that there is something to that often-unspoken argument about children being an obstacle to progress. But if this is so, why is South Korea (like several European nations) scrambling to reverse its low birth rate? Just recently the highest court in South Korea recognized the right to life of the unborn and ruled to enforce the country’s anti-abortion laws. Abortion has been illegal in South Korea since 1953 except in certain cases. Why have they decided to start enforcing this law which had been essentially ignored for decades?
Has South Korea given up on “progress?” Or have Koreans finally realized that such false progress, at the expense of children, is short-lived and potentially very destructive?
More importantly, how can we get Mrs. Gates, who may very well have the best of intentions for women in the developing world, to see the bigger picture? Is the real cause of such devastating and widespread poverty really children? Or is it government and moral corruption, a desire to control rather than liberate people, lack of education and a true sense of community?
The Catholic teaching that Mrs. Gates bizarrely claims led to her current campaign is actually very concerned with development, but the Church understands development in a very different way. In what the Church calls “authentic, integral development,” all people and the entire person – including in her spiritual and eternal dimension – are the end of, not the primary obstacle to, development. Markets should freely allow the development of wealth and its generous sharing. Laws must be just and justly enforced. Basic freedoms—including, and especially, religious freedom—must be defended by the state along with the right to life and all other legitimate rights that flow from this most essential right.
And people are the greatest resource—again, NOT the greatest obstacle—to authentic, integral development. For serious reasons, parents (NOT governments) may choose to postpone pregnancy using natural means that uphold both the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality. But children are never to be seen as an obstacle, and dangerous hormonal drugs, of the means favored by Mrs. Gates and her partners, do not truly empower anyone. Any view to the contrary does not come from the Church, and the Catholic faith cannot be claimed in its support.
The social and moral teachings of the Catholic Church—which are in harmony with one another, not in opposition—provide a wealth of thinking on how to achieve true sustainable development. We pray that more nations can hear this truth before they too begin to see children as a threat to progress.