Although Melinda Gates' recent announcement that her charitable group will axe abortion funding has drawn praise, concern remains over money being funneled into projects that undermine human dignity. In a June 2 blog post, Melinda, wife of billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, announced that she and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “has decided not to fund abortion,” citing concerns that the contention around the issue hinders global human development. The move has been lauded by numerous pro-life outlets and advocates, including Leah Bromberg, communications director for World Youth Alliance. “Abortion is a procedure that not only compromises both the dignity and the development of the unborn but also raises a host of problems for women,” she told CNA June 17. She agreed with Gates' concern that including abortion in human development plans “slows ‘progress for tens of millions of women,’” adding that there are a number of “under-funded solutions and methods that are far better in meeting the needs of women.” Abortion, Bromberg affirmed, “is a selective procedure that should not be conflated with women’s reproductive health, and so we applaud Melinda Gates’ decision to separate the two terms through her Foundation’s decision.” Together with her husband, Gates formed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the world. Since its 1997 formation, the organization has focused on human development, including agricultural progress, education advancement and the eradication of polio and malaria around the globe. However, as part of its reproductive health initiatives, the foundation has provided $71 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other Planned Parenthood affiliates up to 2013. Gates stated in her blog post that while abortion would not be funded, the foundation would shift its focus to other forms of health care for women and children, including “providing the contraceptives that they want,” as well as prenatal care and care for newborns and infants. Austin Ruse, President of C-FAM, a Catholic Human Rights and international watchdog organization, told CNA June 16 that “there may be nothing new here,” explaining that he was not aware that the Gates Foundation had ever been involved in the direct funding of abortion. “However, they are involved in the spread of UN-style family planning which includes abortifacients,” or drugs that cause abortions, he said. “Moreover, as long as the Gates foundation is involved with international Planned Parenthood Federation as an integral partner in their work then they are clearly involved abortion,” Ruse added. Despite these unanswered questions, Ruse applauded Gates’ decision to distance herself “from the nasty business of abortion,” saying her decision “hows how far the country has come.” Gabrielle Jastrebski, Program Manager of FEMM — a reproductive health non-profit that focuses on fertility awareness education by working along with natural cycles rather than suppressing them — voiced concern that despite Gates’ promises, the organization may still end up supporting abortion. “The scope of this promise in regards to the full spectrum of abortifacients remains to be seen,” she told CNA June 17. “Also,” Jastrebski added, “it remains to be seen if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund abortions indirectly through the funding of various organizations that provide or promote abortions.” Jastrebski also noted that the conflation of contraception and abortion with human development works against “the development of the person, which requires providing women with access to basic healthcare needs,” a robust understanding of their own bodies and social needs such as “maternal and paternal employment leave, proper education, and more.” She warned that the Foundation’s new position “ is, in fact, undermined by Gates’ insistence on contraceptive access in their development funding.” By relying on contraception instead of addressing a full dance of social and health concerns, the Gates’ current approach leaves abortion as a so-called “need” when “ communities and societies aren’t conducive to proper protection and upbringing of children.” “Authentic human development builds both the external support and provides women with the education necessary to prevent harming their bodies by means of contraceptives, and by learning how to observe and respect their own bodies and their signs of health and fertility,” Jastrebski said. “The impact of this decision is impossible to determine,” she continued, adding that Gates’ decision may or may not “promote the authentic development of the whole person.” Bromberg weighed in that she supported the organization's rejection of abortion and focusing of funding on “areas that have a 'broad consensus,'” stating that abortion “is an inadequate form of reproductive health care.” “A healthy pregnancy is not a disease; in fact it signals that the systems in a woman’s body are working well,” she said. “Abortion is not a medicine or a treatment for disease.” “Attempting to address multi-faceted global women's issues by simply providing women with access to abortion, is not only a narrow vision of the person, it’s a flawed understanding of global health,” Bromberg said.
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