In a TED Talk this month, Melinda Gates explained, “All men and women should be free to decide whether they do or do not want to conceive a child.”
While much of the debate on birth control concerns issues of abortion and immorality, Gates explained that contraceptives is not about promiscuity, but about women’s right to control over her own body and choice over her own life. “It is not code for abortion,” she explained.
The issue is both a global and a national one. On the global scale, Gates described that those who fall victim to this lack of health care are mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Women from these regions want just as much as women in Western nations to control when and how many they give birth to, Gates explained, disproving the idea that there is a cultural norm to produce high numbers of offspring in these regions. “All women want the same thing,” she explained of women from Kenya to Senegal, to France to the U.S., and that is “to bring every good thing to [the] child before having another one,” as a woman in Nairobi whom Gates interviewed articulated.
Indeed, prospective mothers would like the best for their children: healthy lives, access to opportunities, and stability in the family, which all give the children the best possible future. Women are also able to live healthier and more stable lives themselves when they have the power to choose when they give birth – when they are financially, psychologically, and physically ready.
Despite these practical reasons for why women should have access to birth control, there are still those who argue that contraceptives are a sin and that it can lead to promiscuity. Gates explained that her decision with birth control had nothing to do with promiscuity. “I had a plan for my future. I wanted to go to college, I studied really hard in college, and I was proud to be one of the very few female computer science graduates at my university. I wanted to have a career so I went on to business schools and I became one of the youngest female executives at Microsoft.”
Indeed, according to a study, American women’s access to the pill is correlated to higher incomes and better careers. The logic is simple: a woman has the ability to be more ambitious and to focus entirely on her studies and career if she has the ability to control when she starts her own family, eliminating surprise, unwanted pregnancies that interfere with her professional goals.
Gates addresses the urgency in making contraceptives available to all women: “Will we invest in helping all women get what they want now? Or are we going to condemn them to some century-long struggle, as if this were still revolutionary France and the best method was coitus interruptus?”