Michael Cook

An unmet need for sound thinking

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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July 16, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - If you are not too greedy and need only a modest amount of other people’s money, get a sawed-off shotgun and a balaclava. However, if you are more ambitious, get an acronym. This is clearly the lesson to be drawn from the latest banking scandal, in which Britain’s leading banks scammed US$300 billion, perhaps much more, by fibbing about the Libor—the London Interbank Offered Rate—an acronym which politicians had never heard of and regulators hardly questioned.

But the same mistake was made all over again at this week’s London Family Planning Summit. The rich and famous of the world have donated $2.6 billion to meet the “unmet need” of 120 million women in the developing world for family planning. The UK has pledged $800 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation $560 million, the UNFPA $378 million, Norway $200 million, the Netherlands $160 million, and Germany $122 million. Those are just the donors in the hundreds of millions.

Do any of these governments and organisations really know what $2.6 billion of “unmet need” means? In a year when voters in some countries are rioting over “austericide” in the wake of the global financial crisis, are they tipping money into a gigantic black hole?

A professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Lant Pritchett, told MercatorNet that “unmet need” is a meaningless concept employed by no one except a coterie of family planning experts. Pritchett, who was described last year as one of the world’s 100 top global thinkers by the magazine Foreign Policy, was scathing in an email to MercatorNet. “Wow, I thought all of this was dead and gone… I wonder what is driving this revival?”

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“It has never caught fire except in a tiny group that push and push and naif outsiders assume they know what they are talking about and take it at face value. No one who has looked at it closely… really thinks it has any analytic use other than advocacy value. I am just amazed this nonsense has come back from its well-deserved dustbin of history.”

The argument which has diddled some of the world’s richest governments and philanthropists was set out this week in a special family planning issue of Britain’s most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. Melinda Gates and Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, contend that “Across the developing world, some 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern method of contraception”. Providing them with contraceptives will—they claim—lead to 600,000 fewer newborn deaths and 79,000 fewer maternal deaths each year. With fewer children, women will have more money to spend educating their daughters. And with fewer people there will be a “demographic dividend” allowing more economic growth.

The $2.6 billion pledged at the Summit will reach 120 million of the 222 million women with an “unmet need” for contraception.

“Unmet demand” was dreamed up in the first family-planning surveys in the 1960s. Its high-water mark was the Cairo population conference in 1994 which resolved that: “Governmental goals for family planning should be defined in terms of unmet needs for information and services”. As the organiser of the London summit, Melinda Gates has breathed new life into the idea. But as Pritchett points out, there have always been knotty problems with “unmet need”.

First of all, “unmet”. According to a World Bank briefing note, women with “unmet need for contraception” are those “who do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraception”. Astonishingly, this includes women who are currently pregnant, women who are breast-feeding, and women who find it difficult to become pregnant. The World Bank blandly acknowledges that “women with unmet need may still not have any intention to use contraception were it readily accessible and of good quality”.

In other words, Melinda Gates’s 220 million women include women who know all about contraceptives, can access them, and can pay for them. But they are worried about side effects, or they have religious objections or they have husbands who are working overseas. This makes no difference. Even if they don’t want contraception, Mrs Gates and her supporters know that they need contraception. “Note that the measurement of unmet need,” says the World Bank, “does not include an assessment of whether women want or intend to use contraception.” Even Africa’s 65,000 Catholic nuns fit into that definition.

“The strange thing is,” says Pritchett, “that one of the stalwarts of the family planning movement, Charles Westoff, wrote a paper decades ago showing many of the same criticisms of ‘unmet need’ – eg, that is does not correspond to what women want, that it includes women not currently fecund, etc.—but then they just went on using it anyway.”

Second, “need”. What does “need” for contraceptives mean to a woman? Does it mean “desperation”—Mrs Gates seems to think so—or does it mean “like”? A woman staggering through the Sahara is desperate for a drink; a woman staggering through a bar would like (another) one. In Mrs Gates’s books, both of them have an “unmet need”. But among the 220 million women, should those who are just vaguely interested in contraception be counted?

In a thought-provoking paper which Professor Pritchett wrote in 1996, not long after the Cairo Conference, he pointed out that in comparison to the need for food, water, medical care and fuel, the need for contraception was very small in poor countries.

“Contraception is a very effective technology for having unregulated coital activity and not having children but no one needs contraception in order not to have children. There is no question you need a parachute to jump out of airplanes and not suffer serious injury, but does that mean you need a parachute? Well, the need for parachutes is obviously only as great as the need to fling oneself out of planes, which is pressing if you’re in the 82nd Airborne, but not really otherwise.”

Third, the idea of “unmet need” is patronising, even demeaning, for women. How can they “need” something that they do not want? This kind of reasoning comes from a patriarchal mindset. Women in developing countries are already pushed around too much. They should be allowed to make their own choices in peace. Pritchett told MercatorNet:

“This is exactly like calculating the ‘unmet need’ of Jewish people for pork. That is, one could do the calculations of the ‘need’ for protein, look at which Jewish people are getting enough protein, conclude that the experts think the most cost-effective way of getting protein is pork and then attribute an ‘unmet need’ for pork to people who are Jewish. Of course it is completely disrespectful of women to not listen to their reasons for not using contraception and insist they have a ‘need’ for something they do not ‘want’. It is precisely this kind of disrespect for women and their autonomy and choices that led to the disasters in India and China.”

Fourth, “unmet need” may possibly make sense in marketing, but as an analytical tool, Pritchett says, “it makes no economic sense at all”. Even in underdeveloped regions, women are well aware of the existence of contraception. If demand for it were high, the price should rise. In fact, family planning organisations often have to work hard to give contraceptives away.

As Pritchett points out in his 1996 paper, it is not a question of price. Even poor households in countries like Indonesia and Nepal spend between 2 and 3 percent of household income on tobacco. “If the household can afford tobacco the household can afford contraception,” he wrote.

More recent research shows that the use of contraceptives in developing countries does not decline if their price rises. This suggests that the problem is lack of demand, not lack of supply. American academics examined sales of contraceptives during the severe financial crisis which hit Indonesia in the late 1990s. They found that “very large changes in prices of contraceptives have little impact on the decision to use contraceptives or on method choice, even among the poorest couples.”

In an interview with The Guardian about the Summit Melinda Gates described improving access to contraception across the globe as her life’s work. Unfortunately, a gremlin in the typesetting had her claiming that 200 billion women wanted access, rather than 200 million. But perhaps when you are dealing with esoteric matters like Libor or “unmet need”, billions and millions, whatever, all sound the same. As long as the donors feel good about themselves and family planning bureaucrats continue to draw their paycheques.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License. 

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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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7989 West Virginia Drive, Dallas, where Planned Parenthood is working on secretly opening up a new abortion facility. Google Streetview
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Pro-abortion study: Texas will be down to eight abortion clinics by fall

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By Dustin Siggins

A study by a pro-abortion research group shows that Texas will be down from 41 abortion clinics in July 2013 to eight by this fall.

In July, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that six abortion clinics matched the standards required in HB2, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Those standards include requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of clinics at which they work, a standard already in place, and a requirement that all abortion clinics must upgrade their facilities to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers.

The study estimates that a total of eight clinics will be able to meet the ambulatory standards, including one that will open in the fall. The standards take effect on September 1. According to the study, this means there will be one abortion clinic for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. An infographic from the study shows that the existing clinics will be located on the eastern half of the state, largely near metropolitan areas.

The study's results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, have abortion supporters outraged. Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check writes, "No legal abortion facilities will operate south or west of San Antonio," and that five of the clinics will be operated by Planned Parenthood.

However, the closure of so many clinics is good news to pro-life activists like Karen Garnett, who heads the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in the Diocese of Dallas.

"The closing of abortion facilities in Texas the last few years has been the result of the owners of the facilities themselves not being willing or able to comply with the higher standards of medical safety" required by the Texas legislature, Garnett told LifeSiteNews. "Pro-life activists and leaders in Dallas (and Texas) have been working vigilantly with the members of the Texas legislature the last few years to pass these sensible laws.  There is much to be said for the power of prayer, particularly through the powerful 40 Days for Life campaign and prayer vigils."

While abortion supporters claim Texas is abandoning pregnant women, Garnett said the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas has "helped more than 7,500 mothers choose life outside the abortion facilities," but "we don't stop there."

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"Our Project Gabriel Ministry takes the next step. For those mothers needing and desiring spiritual, emotional and material help, we offer Gabriel Angels, who are paired with them in a one-on-one mentoring and support relationship. We also have a Gabriel Resource Coordinator on staff to help them with practical needs as their situations stabilize." Life skills classes, adoption counseling, and partnerships with pregnancy centers are also part of the Diocese's work to help pregnant mothers.

Jor-El Godsey of Heartbeat International said that there are 326 pregnancy help organizations across the state, which outnumber abortion clinics by approximately 40 to 1. He estimated that approximately 120,000 pregnant women have come to care centers in 2014.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is funded by an anonymous donor, is a five-year effort to "analyze the impact of the measures affecting reproductive health passed by the 82nd and 83rd Texas Legislatures." The project's partners include the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, the pro-abortion Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. One of the project's investigators is Daniel Grossman, whose biography says that "his current research at Ibis includes both clinical and social science studies aimed at improving access to contraception and safe abortion."

The project has also published reports titled "The Public Health Threat of Anti-Abortion Legislation," and "Finding the Twitter Users that Stood With Wendy." The latter examined social media support for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who briefly became a national figure for her support of late-term abortions in 2013.

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