Having Faith in Family Planning

Henry Mosley, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor emeritus.

NUSA DUA, INDONESIA— Meet. Pray. Plan.

That’s the basic agenda for the preachers, mullahs, monks, priests and rabbis gathered from around the globe at the 2016 International Conference for Family Planning. The faith leaders’ collective mission is to deliver a consensus statement supporting family planning in time for the closing ceremony on Thursday.

Among those who made the pilgrimage here to Bali—the island of gods and goddesses, as well as 1,000 temples—is Henry Mosley, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor emeritus.

Mosley, whose parents were medical missionaries, barely had time to repack his melatonin after having recently attended professional meetings in China. That trip involved a spontaneous visit to his birthplace—on his birthday, no less: “The first time I’ve been there in 82 years,” Mosley exclaims, referring to the Ren Ci Hospital, established in 1892 by the Southern Presbyterian Mission, in Qingjiangpu, China.

“I saw the church my dad was affiliated with in Yancheng, where he moved to set up a small hospital and worked for four years—and where I grew up—until 1937; it’s still there, now with 3,000 members, as well as the remnants of the original hospital building where my dad worked,” he says.

“The reason I got into public health was, my dad came back [from China] having decided public health was where it was at.”

Mosley, who explicitly believes that faith leaders and faith-based institutions have a moral duty to promote family planning, says his beliefs and public health work have never been at odds: “Not at all. Not in any way.”

Still, he acknowledges that he, like most everyone, embodies contradictions in terms of his religious views and professional values.

“No. 1, I’m supportive of all methods of contraception, and No. 2, I see the need for safe abortion,” he says, explaining that about 15% of all maternal mortality is due to illegal induced abortions, and that could be prevented without any change in maternity care services—if women were able to prevent their pregnancy or have a safe abortion.

“As a public health professional, I work for family planning because I would like to see abortions be minimized,” he says.

Mosley, a Christian, self-identifies as pro-life. But he considers the life of the mother, he says, as well as that of the child: “I demonstrate my pro-life views by being strongly supportive of family planning, and having spent a good part of my career on it.”

In Bangladesh in the 1970s, he assisted in the foundation of a national family planning program that resulted in lowering not only birth rates, but also abortion rates. To prevent abortions, he advocates giving women a choice to control their fertility rather than making it illegal for them to terminate pregnancy.

Throughout his life, Mosley has bridged the worlds of religion and science, having simultaneously—and gracefully—answered both callings: “I think it’s practicing your faith by working in public health,” he says.

In the 1970s, he was founding director of the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh, and just this past summer he was recognized as 2015 Christian International Health Champion by pre-conference sponsor Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH). Mosley’s decades-spanning career qualified him as a formidable facilitator of the ICFP Faith pre-conference events held earlier this week.

“It’s great to hear faith groups are working at every level, from the poorest of the poor to the highest levels of government,” Mosley says of the conference attendees. —Maryalice Yakutchik

Ed note: Global Health NOW correspondent Maryalice Yakutchik, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, is among the journalists reporting from Indonesia at the 2016 ICFP. Check back every day this week for exclusives from the conference.

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