It’s being billed as a major smack-down: prominent Catholic laywoman versus the pope. Melinda Gates, Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ wife and one half of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “disagrees with the Vatican on the use of contraceptives,” according to the Guardian newspaper. With the British government, the foundation this week sponsored a London Summit on Family Planning designed to provide 120 million women in the world's poorest countries with access to contraceptives by 2020. Gates pledged $560 million for the effort.
"Of course I wrestled with this,” Gates told the newspaper. “As a Catholic I believe in this religion, there are amazing things about this religion, amazing moral teachings that I do believe in, but I also have to think about how we keep women alive. I believe in not letting women die, I believe in not letting babies die, and to me that's more important than arguing about what method of contraception [is right]."
In one sense, this is a dog-bites-man story. As we were reminded during the controversy over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate for religious employers, the Catholic men (and women) in the pew overwhelmingly reject the church’s edict against “artificial” birth control. A Gallup Poll showed that 82% of Catholic respondents agreed that birth control was morally acceptable. (The poll didn’t distinguish between natural and artificial birth control, but it’s unlikely that many respondents had natural family planning in mind.) In another poll, 57% of Catholic voters — and 59% of Catholic women — supported the Obama mandate.