I wonder if, in 1968 when he signed Humanae Vitae, Paul VI could have guessed the kinds of conversations we'd still be having more than 40 years later–or that Catholics would still be arguing about birth control.
I doubt Montini could have foreseen Melinda Gates–a woman with control of billions in philanthropic resources and priceless credibility in the world of aid to the world's poor–who is now devoting herself entirely to providing medical means of family planning to 120 million poor women. Did I mention she is Catholic?
Gates has been on the defensive–although you would never know it by her self-possessed and graceful demeanor–because her efforts contravene Catholic teaching on birth control. Gates acknowledges in an interview on The Colbert Report that this is so, but she also argues that, in the interest of social justice, women should be free to choose other methods to manage their fertility, an argument she also took to CNN.
Gates' argument, to my mind anyway, is a winning one. Even if you agree with the church that artificial means of birth control are immoral, it is indisputable that women in poor countries, along with their children, have better outcomes when they bear fewer children. To be effective, natural family planning requires charts, thermometers, and agreement by the couple to refrain from intercourse for as many as 10 days during a woman's cycle. It is, frankly, a luxury for relatively wealthy people.
Poor women deserve every opportunity to improve their lives and those of their children, and managing their fertility is key to that effort–as many of them have told anyone who will ask. Frankly, whatever moral danger there is in artificial birth control–and many Catholics see none–is far outweighed by the good that could be achieved for poor women. The end, of course, does not always justify the means, but this seems a moral risk worth taking.