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Continuing our weekly installments of powerful women (as you can see, we’ve dubbed the series “POW WOW” – Political Operatives Wednesday, Woman of the Week), we bring you Ms. Melinda Gates. In April, Gates, half of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave a TEDxChange talk concerning contraception.

Gates sums up her commitment to family planning (which is the underlying reason for her staunch support of contraceptives) by quoting one of the many women she met during her travels. In Nairobi, she spoke with a group whose members discussed why access to contraceptives was so important to them. One woman explained

I want to bring every good thing to this child before I have another

In her lecture and throughout her interviews, Gates cites her Catholic school education (something we have in common) as the impetus for her devotion to service and improving the lives of others. With that in mind, Gates pledged $560 million for contraception last month and launched the website affiliated with the campaign, There is No Controversy in Contraception. Last month, the Gates Foundation and UK government partnered to host the London Summit on Family Planning, where the groups raised $2.3 billion of the $4.3 billion Gates wants to raise to deliver contraceptives to 120 million women and children throughout the developing world.

Gates has also committed $100 million to contraceptives research, a field that has suffered as contraceptives and women’s reproductive rights have become politically-charged subjects. The debates over healthcare in the United States, and President Obama’s proposal for funding of contraceptives, have shown that Americans, at least, still are incredibly improperly educated about contraceptives and how they fundamentally work. Possibly the best example of this was the rant Rush Limbaugh unleashed on his radio talk show back in February. Limbaugh illustrated a basic lack of understanding of how birth control pills work when he attacked a young woman who had testified in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in support of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives:

Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills

So… Putting aside that birth control doesn’t work like Tylenol (you don’t take it every time you have sex..), this was just stupid.

But back to Melinda Gates’ fantastic contributions –

When women are educated or given the ability to control the size of their families, research has shown that:

    • Maternal mortality is reduced. Family planning could prevent up to one third of all maternal deaths by empowering women to decide when to have a child and avoid unintended pregnancies and abortions.
    • Deaths and illness among young women are reduced. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for women under 19, with complications of childbirth and abortion being the major factors. Adolescents aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under 15 are five times as likely to die as those in their 20s.
    • Child health and survival is improved. Reducing the number of births less than two years apart, births to very young and older women, and higher-order births, family planning lowers child and infant mortality. For example, if women spaced their births at least 36 months apart, almost 3 million deaths to children under age 5 could be averted.

It’ll be interesting to see how these initiatives develop. It’s refreshing to see honest, progressive, and problem-solving talk happening on women’s reproductive rights.