A funny thing always seems to happen when champions of “women’s reproductive rights” and “freedom of choice” are confronted with women making choices they don’t like. Suddenly, the most libertarian and tolerant feminists advocating for women to have the freedom to do what they want with their “own bodies” reveal their strong inclination to police others.
Take a controversy that erupted in Sweden recently over a new birth control app. A Stockholm-based company called Natural Cycles has been enjoying waves of media attention as a hot and promising startup. Founded by husband-and-wife team Elina and Raoul Berglund, who used their tech savvy and background as physics researchers (she worked for CERN) to develop a smartphone mobile app that helps women track their menstrual cycle and fertility, the company was reported in November to have just secured $30 million from investors to market its wildly successful European tool to American women.
The app is subscription-based and uses a thermometer and an algorithm to tell women how likely they are to conceive on a given day. It’s a torqued-up version of Natural Family Planning that the Catholic Church has long advocated for couples to abstain on fertile days if they want to space children but remain in cooperation with God’s will and design. While the Church has taught that pharmaceutical contraception and devices are “intrinsically evil” because they are closed to God’s greatest gift of new life, the Natural Cycles app was simply marketed to a secular audience as a 100 percent safe and side-effect-free alternative to the problematic Pill, to be used in conjunction with other devices or pharmaceuticals to control birth. Or, as a tool to help conceive a baby naturally. “Choice is power,” was one of the slogans the company used, so maybe it was trying to ingratiate itself with the “reproductive health” crowd and erase any Catholic connection in people’s minds.
By last year, Natural Cycles had 600,000 subscribers and went from 5,000 British users in 2016 to 125,000 last year. It had beat its $2 million 2016 sales just a few months into 2017 and this, the media was saying, was mostly because women were ditching the Pill, fed up with its long list of documented side-effects – the depressed moods and libidos to match, the weight gain and migraines – not to mention the risks of breast cancer, blood clots and strokes that had already killed thousands of young women and girls globally in the past decades. The natural app seemed fit to grab a small chunk of the projected $33 billion global contraceptive market.
You could almost hear the pharmaceutical dragon waking from its comfortable slumber to this rude intrusion into its treasure lair.
“Any [fertility awareness] app that makes efficacy claims should have been examined in a standard efficacy study,” Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University, complained to TechCrunch. This was a chilly embrace from a feminist “reproductive rights” advocate who you think would be jumping for joy that women could understand their own fertility, use it to their benefit and not having to worry about dying.
Just as Natural Cycles was preparing to take its gigantic leap onto American soil, home of Big Pharma, the little Swedish company suddenly found itself lurched up in the claws of the beast. Something called the Siren News Agency reported that 37 of 668 women seeking abortions between September and December at the Stockholm South General Hospital were users of the Natural Cycles mobile app.
“It’s a new method and we see a number of unwanted pregnancies, so we are reporting this to the Medical Products Agency,” midwife Carina Montin was quoted.
The news ricocheted across the globe faster than you can say “pharmaceutical smear job.” The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Mirror, France’s Le Huff Post and a chain of media all reported on the “dozens” of women fallen pregnant using the app. There was no question about the contraceptive choices of the other 631 women, although the Guardian did note that the numbers matched the quoted 93 percent success rate of the device – better than the 91 to 92 percent efficacy attributed to the Pill.
“Uproar over contraceptive app after 37 users fall pregnant” declared RT’s headline. The Swedish news site Aftonbladet interviewed obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Stockholm hospital named Lena Marions who said, “For people who do not let an appliance decide when to have sex, this is a difficult method.” No matter that women may consider a contraceptive implant linked to autoimmune disease or a Pill linked to strokes and brain tumours“difficult” too.
It turns out that the doctor behind the complaint, Marions, is a big champion of “family planning” in Sweden. “Lena Marions stands up for woman, especially in the issue of abortion rights,” Niels Lynöe, Chair of the Ethics Council at Karolinska Institutet said when it was handing her a prize for their brand of “ethics” in 2015.
Inflating abortionists is something that the Karolinska Institutet and Sweden generally have been doing for decades. Abortion advocates around the world have long looked enviably upon Sweden as a country leading the global march for easy abortion access. It was the first country to legalize abortion in 1938 when doctors there were performing abortions for medical “humanitarian and eugenic” reasons. By 1946, the hospitals had done away with the pretence of medical necessity and Swedish doctors were aborting for whatever “social medicinal” reason they wanted, such as to prevent births to the “mentally insufficient” or to harvest fresh human cells from aborted fetuses at the Karolinska Institutet for vaccine research.
“People need both access to health care, including legal abortions and contraceptives, as well as access to knowledge and counseling about sexuality and sexual rights,” the Swedish development agency states continues to boast today. And part of that program is about using public funds for “emphasising lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.”
“Swedes should be proud,” wife of Bill Gates and the First Lady of Microsoft, Melinda Gates has gushed. “Our foundation has a great relationship with Sweden. One of the most important goals we share is investing in global health, particularly the health of mothers and children globally.” Last year they even gave $1.2 million to set up a special Swedish institute on “global health.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is of course famous for promoting reproductive rights — that euphemism for every kind of sterilizing device, procedure, drug and abortifacient known to man. Since she bought her own Family Planning Summit of political leaders and abortion advocates in London in 2012 with the goal of bringing birth control to 220 million women worldwide, the media has declared Melinda as the global champion of poor women.
It’s a bit of a mystery why a woman who lives in a $123 million mansion with six kitchens, 24 bathrooms and underwater music in her 60-foot swimming pool has been iconized as the self-appointed advocate for the poor women of the world. Her chief expertise is being wife to the richest man in the world. But I “reached out” to Melinda about this latest birth control app anyway, wondering if she and the Gates Foundation were interested in supporting this startup company (from Sweden!) offering the women of the world this no-risk birth control alternative to the pharmaceutical contraceptive products that have many well-documented dangers.
After all, Mrs. Gates had written a special column for the Daily Mail describing her “agony” at being “brought up Catholic and brought to believe contraceptives are sinful” and wanting to help poor women.
“The church doctrine on contraceptives is very clear, so I understand why people ask me how I reconcile my faith and my conscience,” she said. “I received my Catholic education at Ursuline Academy, where we were taught to live out our motto, serviam – ‘I will serve.’ I would not be so passionate about saving women’s lives if I hadn’t been steeped in teachings about social justice.”
“Access to contraceptives is a social justice issue,” she continued. “Birth control gave me the power to lead the life I wanted. I attended college, built a fulfilling career, and had the number of children I wanted, when I wanted.”
It is not surprising that the Gates, like their Swedish abortion chums, would not let down their friends in Big Pharma. Melinda was quick to strike a 2012 deal with foreign aid donors from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and pharmaceutical giants Merck & Co. Inc., and Bayer AG, to roughly double the supply and halve the price of their long-acting hormonal contraceptive implants (linked to the same risks as the pill). The long-term fixed-price contract she rendered has pledged to make up any shortfall in demand for Merck and Bayer products with your tax dollars so big volumes drive their bigger profits.
Natural Cycles should probably be thankful for the recent media attention, even if it seems negative. But they might take note not to try to appease the Pharma beast. The only choice for women that Melinda Gates and her “reproductive health” friends are going to support is the kind that comes with a prescription pad, a chemical cocktail and a government kickback.