Michael Cook


An unmet need for sound thinking

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook

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?”


“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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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent


Paris climate summit kicks off with Prince Charles bemoaning our ‘crowded planet’

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits

PARIS, December 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- The COP21 – or 21st edition of the Conference of Parties on “climate change” – got off to a spectacular start on Monday with 150 heads of state joining to speak of the “urgency” of the fight against “anthropogenic” global warming. Even though many scientists disagree with the theory that man’s carbon emissions are causing the planet to heat up, and a good number believe that there has been at least a “pause” in global warming for over 18 years, an overwhelming majority of politicians at the helm of their respective countries are touting emergency measures to keep carbon emissions down. Underlying all this is the Malthusian idea that the Earth’s population is no longer “sustainable.” If man is to blame, that means there are too many human beings on the planet.

That was in fact one of the first points made on Monday, when the 150 heads of state took turns to make 6-minute speeches fraught with urgency and alarm. So many had accepted French President François Hollande’s invitation they had to be separated into two groups in parallel events. As a special guest, the Prince of Wales was one of the first to speak.

jeann“On an increasingly crowded planet,” he said, “humanity faces many threats – but none is greater than climate change.” Prince Charles named several challenges linked to global warming: “our ability to feed ourselves; to remain healthy and safe from extreme weather; to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and to avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”

What with the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, the rise of the Islamic State and the spectacle of thousands of migrants crossing the southern borders of Europe all summer, this was an obvious play on people’s feelings of fear and desire for security. The operative words are of course “an increasingly crowded planet.”

Now the participants at the COP21 are, in the main, not using the words “overpopulation,” “population control,” or “family planning,” if we can go by press releases at least. But the idea is very much under the surface. The choice of Prince Charles as one of the first keynote speakers at the very opening of the Paris conference makes the point: he has long been making it clear that there are too many human beings around and that it is high time traditional respect for human life adjusts itself to reality.

In 1992, he was already discreetly accusing the Vatican of being part of “certain delegations” who are “determined to prevent discussion of population growth.” In June 2010, during a lecture marking the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of which he is a patron, Prince Charles said the population of Lagos in Nigeria has risen from 300,000 to 20 million in his lifetime: “I could have chosen Mumbai, Cairo or Mexico City; wherever you look, the world’s population is increasing fast. It goes up by the equivalent of the entire population of the United Kingdom every year. Which means that this poor planet of ours, which already struggles to sustain 6.8 billion people, will somehow have to support over 9 billion people within 50 years.”

Speaking of the “very difficult moral questions” raised in this context, he added that we should come to a view that balances “the traditional attitude to the sacred nature of life” with religious teachings that urge humans to “keep within the limits of Nature’s benevolence and bounty.”

This is in obvious defiance towards traditional condemnation of contraception and might even be construed as justifying abortion.

Three years later, in 2013, the Prince of Wales published an official endorsement of Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s (authors of The Population Bomb) latest report on overpopulation, which pleads for universal access to (chosen) contraception and “legal and safe” abortion, on his official website.

All this was left unsaid at the COP21 but it does enter the logic of the talks, as confirmed by international bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies that promote population control in exchange for development aid.

In another noteworthy event, this time on the side of COP21’s first day official meetings, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, met with Barack Obama and François Hollande on Monday afternoon to discuss his “Breakthrough Energy Coalition,” an initiative he is taking together with Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and his wife, Dr Priscilla Chan, as well as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and Xavier Nell, the French founder of Free, an internet provider, who made his first fortune with a pioneering French information network Minitel, where he “sold” erotic services in the 1980s.

Bill Gates and his billionaire counterparts are aiming to invest millions in “clean” energy, together with widespread public investment, in order to make the field attractive to investors.

But “philanthropist” Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are also well known for their action in favor of population control and the distribution of contraceptives in poor countries. All the major companies involved in the initiatives are proponents of LGBT rights as are many sponsors of the COP21 in France.

At least one advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is officially taking part in the COP21 on the chapter of “green agriculture.”

Pope Francis himself has reiterated his support for the COP21, hoping together with François Hollande that the talks will lead to a “binding” agreement where rich countries will help poor ones, both technically and financially, to go ahead with the “ecological revolution.” On Monday, the pope called on the international community to realize that global warming is driving the world “to the brink of suicide.”

Saying he was “unsure” of the COP21’s outcome, he added: “All I can say is that it’s now or never.” He was speaking to the press in the airplane that was bringing him back to Rome from his African journey.

As the major anti-global warming demonstration that was to have taken place on Sunday in Paris was canceled because of the November terrorist attacks, the French authorities suggested would-be demonstrators send a pair of shoes to the “Place de la République” to represent them there. Pope Francis agreed to “sign” one of the pairs with the inscription Laudato si’. They were placed there together with two pairs of shoes bearing the cards of Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Claudio Hummes who personally presented a petition by 800,000 Catholics from 130 countries in support of the COP21 at an interreligious event in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, last Saturday.

Cardinal Turkson, who will be representing the Holy See during the second phase of the climate conference, has taken advantage of his position as president of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice to encourage 5,100 bishops and 413,000 priests to commit themselves in favor of the Paris summit, asking them to check out demonstrations and other events in their dioceses in favor of fighting climate change.

A new “Advent”?


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Saying abortion is ‘killing babies’ is not hateful, it’s the truth: Ben Carson (video)

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By Ben Johnson

December 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Dr. Ben Carson is walking back statements he made over the weekend that seemed to accuse the pro-life movement of spewing "hateful rhetoric."

Dr. Carson told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that there was "no question" that overheated words on "both sides" of the abortion debate may have frayed our social discourse and contributed to Robert Lewis Dear's decision to open fire inside a Planned Parenthood last Friday.

Police have not yet determined Dear's motive, though his mental state has been questioned.

Members of the pro-life community recoiled at the notion that they had engaged in hate speech. "Dr. Carson is sorely misinformed," Lauren Muzyka, the executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, told LifeSiteNews. He "must reacquaint himself with the pro-life movement he loves and claims" as his own.

“Doctor Carson just ended his presidential candidacy," Operation Rescue President Troy Newman told Breitbart News.

On Monday night, Carson appeared on "The Kelly File" on Fox News to address the controversy touched off just 36 hours earlier.

All pro-life leaders "need to do is look at my record," he said.

"I've spent my whole life as a pro-life advocate, trying to save lives" as a surgeon, including operating on premature babies. Carson, a frequent speaker at women's pregnancy centers, added, "I don't think any candidate has been as involved in raising as much money for pro-life issues as I have."

"So, when something is said that someone might try to interpret as anti-pro-life, that's just silly," he said.

When asked what pro-life statements rose to the level of "hateful rhetoric," Carson said he had in mind anyone who would say he "can understand why somebody would come into...an abortion clinic and shoot it up."

Saying that abortionists are "killing babies" does not count, though. "I say that myself," he said. "I don't think that's hateful rhetoric; that's just the truth."

On the other side of the debate, those who favor abortion "engage in such hateful rhetoric by saying that anybody who doesn't want a woman to have an abortion is anti-woman," he said.

Dr. Carson, speaking in his usually low and measured cadences, called for a calm discussion of the rights proper to unborn children to replace shouting.

"Somebody has to be the mature one," he said. "I think the appropriate people to do that are gonna be the pro-life people, because they have much better arguments."

"It's very difficult for somebody who is pro-abortion to sit down and explain why it's OK to take this little baby who has features that we can all recognize – eyes and ears and hearts – and pull them apart," he said. "They have to be able to explain that."

Before switching to another topic, Megyn Kelly wondered if the Planned Parenthood feeding frenzy provided "evidence of the bias in some of these reporters...who are on the pro-choice side" and "think any expression of...the pro-life stance is angry rhetoric.”

Dr. Carson had just completed a tour of Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. He said the displaced persons he spoke to did not want to come to the United States but wanted to return to their homes.

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Fr. Mark Hodges

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Man threatened surrogate with financial ruin if she refused to abort his triplets

Fr. Mark Hodges
By Fr. Mark Hodges

WOODLAND HILLS, California, December 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – While pro-abortion "Catholic" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to legalize commercial surrogacy, a case in point demonstrates the ludicrousness of the loveless practice.

A Georgia man hired a California woman to carry his child in her womb, via in vitro fertilization, for $33,000. Practitioners fertilized a 20-year-old donor's three eggs with the rich man's sperm and implanted the conceived humans in Melissa Cook's womb earlier this year, in the hopes that one might survive.

Melissa Cook has never met the father of the children she carries.

It is normal practice, with in vitro fertilization, to implant more than one conceptus, because in most cases, most or all of the babies die.  "Extras" are discarded to die as well.

But all three of the babies implanted in Cook defied the odds. Instead of carrying the Georgia man's baby, Cook was found to be carrying three of his and the 20-year-old stranger's babies – triplets.

Overwhelmed by the thought of fathering triplets, the Georgia man sent Cook a letter demanding that she abort one extra baby. He called it a "selection reduction" and commanded her to kill the child per their surrogate contract.

Cook balked. "They are human beings. I bonded with these kids. This is just not right," she told The Post.

The Georgia man's lawyer threatened Cook with financial ruin. "His remedies where you refuse to abide by the terms of the agreement, are immense" the lawyer's letter reads, enumerating "loss of all benefits under the agreement, damages in relation to future care of the children [and] medical costs associated with any extraordinary care the children may need."

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He further demanded that Cook get an abortion in less than 24 hours of receipt of his letter. Cook, who is a mother of four and a surrogate to a fifth child previously, is now 17 weeks pregnant.

"I have to reduce. I'm scared. I don't want to suffer," Cook, who is separated from her husband, fretted.

"This sad story highlights the fact that surrogacy is based in the sick idea that a human being is a commodity that can be bought and sold, threatened and killed, all at the whim of the powerful," Stephen Phelan, director of mission communications for Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews.

"Here, a mother is threatened by being held to a contract that she mistakenly signed, understanding too late that she signed away her own freedom and risked the life of her unborn child," Phelan said.

Director Phelan noted, "These cases are not anomalies. They perfectly follow the logic of slavery and abuse that underlie the life-as-commodity view, even when these practices are sold as affirming life."

"We pray that those who currently see in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood as 'pro-life, pro-woman and pro-child' will reconsider and fight any law that allows or encourages the practices," Phelan concluded.

Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, commented, "Why on Earth would Cuomo want to set up a system like this in New York? It's parent breeding."


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