Fighting the culture of contraception in Uganda
December 21, 2012, (HLI Worldwatch)—In Uganda, as in most parts of Africa, the culture is one in which life is respected and family is at the center. But like most of Africa, the culture is under constant attack from outside forces pressuring the government to embrace the “reproductive health” agenda of abortion and contraception. Billboards, television commercials, and radio ads pushing contraceptives are very common. I experienced firsthand the propaganda effort underway in Uganda during a missionary trip this past November.
Uganda used to be a model in the fight against HIV/AIDS because President Yoweri Museveni implemented a policy throughout the country which focused on the only real way to stem the spread of the deadly virus: asking people to change their risky sexual behavior by abstaining from sex before marriage and by being faithful to their partner.
When President Museveni’s ABC policy (Abstain before marriage, Be faithful after, and use condoms only when absolutely necessary) was implemented in 1992, the adult HIV/AIDS infection rate was 30 percent in the capital of Kampala and other large urban areas, and the national life expectancy for the entire country was only 44 years. But in the next decade, the adult HIV/AIDS infection rate dropped 80 percent in just 10 years, to six percent in 2002, and the life expectancy rose by eight years. Unfortunately, Western governments and NGOs have been successful in their attempts to destroy the ABC program by forcing an acceptance of greater condom use, leading to more risky sexual behavior, and the HIV/AIDS rate is again on the rise.
Shortly after I arrived in Uganda, Human Life International (HLI) country director Father Jonathan Opio took me to Namugongo, also known as the Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs, in Kampala where St. Charles Lwanga was martyred for the faith and the virtue of chastity. At Namugongo, we prayed for the people of Africa to resist the contraceptive mentality that is destroying their country and to embrace the culture of life.
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Fr. Opio and I met with a group of women in the city of Tororo who were victims of the push for greater access to contraceptives in Uganda. The women told story after story in about the health problems they were experiencing because of IUDs, Norplant and Depo Provera. Each one of these long-term hormonal contraceptives carries great risks to women’s health that is not often discussed in public. Depo Provera for instance has been shown to double the risk of HIV but is still heavily promoted across Africa.
A local government health official was in attendance and heard the women’s stories, but his response to the women was that they were suffering side effects from the contraception because they had been unfaithful to their husbands! The women began shouting at him as a group and blamed him for the pain they were now experiencing.
I was astounded that he seemed not to have grasped what the women were saying, and that as a government health official he didn’t understand the negative side effects of the contraceptives he was determined to promote. As we spoke more with the women not only about the health risks of contraception, but also about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church against their use, the government official seemed to imply that Fr. Opio and I could find ourselves in trouble with the authorities if we continued to spread our message without first seeking approval from the government. Needless to say, the thinly veiled threat did not have its intended effect.
At another meeting I was able to address a group of about 50 political and community leaders including the Mayor of Tororo, representatives of President Museveni and administrators of two local hospitals. Fr. Opio and I gave a presentation about the population control agenda in Africa and how Western governments and NGOs are using great sums of money and influence to destroy the traditionally life-loving African culture. Not everyone in the room was pro-life and they asked some challenging questions, but the dialogue was very respectful and we ate dinner together afterwards.
A highlight of this trip was hearing the stories of a group of women whose children were saved from abortion by the HLI Uganda team. The mothers gave moving testimonies on how they chose life instead of abortion, and how their beautiful bouncing babies are sources of hope and consolation. While the laws in Uganda are mostly respectful of life, there is still widespread immorality and illegal abortions. In October of 2011, HLI Uganda was involved in a case that led to the arrest of a medic who performed an illegal abortion on his girlfriend, and in the process almost killed her. I had the chance to meet one of the police officers who was instrumental in bringing the young woman’s assailant to justice.
As a Catholic apostolate, HLI endeavors to work closely with the Church in every country in which we operate. Fr. Opio was able to arrange for us to give a special presentation to the Ugandan bishops during my trip. A number of topics were discussed, but there was a heavy focus on the influence of population control groups in Africa and what these groups are doing to undermine the moral authority of the bishops. We advised the bishops on some strategies they could undertake to combat this deadly influence. I had the impression that the bishops were very supportive of our message, and there was great optimism about what we could achieve together for the protection of life in the future.
As HLI Founder Father Paul Marx said many times, “In every country, contraception always leads to massive abortion.” While the West is falling into decay, we have in Uganda and other parts of Africa people hungering for the Gospel of Life who have so far been able to stop the tidal wave of legalized abortion. But the increased push for contraception is a continual threat. I hope HLI and the Catholic Church in Uganda can work even more closely together in defeating the contraceptive mentality to get Uganda back on the right track to saving lives from HIV/AIDS, and to stop abortion from ever being legalized.
Father Peter West is the vice president for missions at Human Life International.
Reprinted from HLI Worldwatch.