Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Reflections on My Recent Travels

June 02, 2014

I’ve had a really busy two weeks.  From Geneva to London to Berlin to Toronto, I talked to leaders and advocates and reporters about the momentum behind helping poor women and girls break the cycle of poverty.  

We’ve been concentrating on this acronym – RMNCH – which stands for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.  I know. It’s clunky. But there’s actually a good reason the letters get stuck together. In people’s experience, they are inextricably linked. Newborns don’t undergo a transformation on the 29th day of their lives, notwithstanding the fact that researchers suddenly categorize them as children. As far as parents are concerned, there is no difference between a newborn and a child.

This week has made me even more optimistic about the future.  In each stop of my travels, I’ve heard more passion than ever about making sure women and girls have access to the health care they need for their families to lead productive and rewarding lives.  

When I was in Canada, however, an issue came up that worries me. I sat with Prime Minister Harper for media interviews in Toronto, and while most of the conversation had to do with the impact of Canada’s commitment to RMNCH, every journalist also focused on Canada’s policy on abortion.  

Let me tell you why this worries me.

Around the world there is a deep, broad, and powerful consensus: We should provide all women the information and tools to time and space their pregnancies in a safe and healthy way that works for them. This approach is simple, it works, and it saves lives.  

The question of abortion should be dealt with separately. But in the United States and around the world the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning. 

I understand why there is so much emotion, but conflating these issues will slow down progress for tens of millions of women.  That is why when I get asked about my views on abortion, I say that, like everyone,  I struggle with the issue, but I’ve decided not to engage on it publicly—and the Gates Foundation has decided not to fund abortion. 

I am focused on one thing: the opportunity to make a difference in tens of millions of women’s lives by giving them access to the information and resources they need to plan their families.  

I understand that the abortion debate will continue, but conflating it with the consensus on so many of the things we need to do to keep women healthy is a mistake. We have made such great progress for women on prenatal care, on providing the contraceptives that they want, and on encouraging proper care and nutrition for newborns, and we need to keep moving forward.  The only way to do that is to be clear, focused, and committed. 

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