PUBLISHED: 14:14 EST, 7 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:40 EST, 7 May 2012
Facing backlash from the Catholic Church on an already controversial issue, Bill Gates’ wife Melinda announced this week that contraception will be the primary goal of their foundation, with plans to revolutionize it globally.
Bill and Melinda founded the Gates Foundation 12 years ago and it has since become the world’s largest philanthropic organization. It was while visiting communities in Africa during vaccination programs that she became aware of how many women wanted contraception.
She revealed in an interview with Newsweekthat she has decided to make family planning her signature issue and primary public health a priority.
The $34bilion foundation is putting this into practice from July, when it teams up with the British government to cosponsor a summit of world leaders in London. Their goal? To start raising the $4billion the foundation says it will cost to get 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020.
As well as funding contraception in developing countries, the foundation are also planning on spending money on finding new methods of birth control including self-injectable contraception and birth control pills which work without hormones.
Mrs Gates told Newsweek: ‘When I started to realize that that needed to get done in family planning, I finally said, “OK, I’m the person that’s going to do that”.’
A practicing Catholic, she has always disagreed with the church’s position on contraception though has always been anti-abortion.
She said going public about issues that are against the Catholic faith was difficult but she believes by doing so she was fulfilling another part of Catholicism.
‘I had to wrestle with which pieces of religion do I use and believe in my life, what would I counsel my daughters to do.
‘Defying church teachings was difficult, but also came to seem morally necessary. Otherwise, we’re not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.’
Mrs Gates however has already been criticized by the Catholic right. After her first public speech on the issue at a TEDxChange conference in Berlin early last month, she was immediately attacked for promoting abortion and going against Catholic doctrine.
However her speech focused on contraception, a topic she said should not be a controversial one, and did not promote abortion in any way.
The U.K. Catholic Herald’s Francis Phillips said: ‘It is always a disappointment when a public figure of great wealth, standing or power explains that although they are loyal Catholics they think Church teaching is wrong – predictably on moral matters.’
Mrs Gates told Newsweek that she wants to move contraception away from demographics and more towards women’s needs.
‘This is about empowering women to be educated and to make a choice that they want to make,’ she said. ‘And if you look at what happens demographically because of that choice, you then get some of these outcomes that people were hoping to get worldwide.’
Though she will undoubtedly continue to face backlash from the Catholic right as her work on contraception progresses she still has a lot of support from many practicing Catholics throughout the world.
During her speech in Berlin, she spoke of the Ursuline nuns who taught at her Dallas Catholic high school, who she said ‘made service and social justice a high priority. I believe that I’m applying the lessons that I learned in high school.’
She told Newsweek she soon got a call from some of the nuns telling her they were all behind her.
‘We know this is a difficult issue to speak on, but we absolutely believe that you’re living under Catholic values,’ they told her, which she said was ‘heartening’.