Bloomberg Joins the Red Hot Global Battle Over Reproductive Rights

Mike Bloomberg has been out of City Hall for only a few months, but he's really hit the ground running as a philanthropist bent on expanding into new areas and making a dent in that $32 billion fortune.

Which is exactly what we predicted months ago.

Related: Coming Soon: The Bloomberg Juggernaut.

In January, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a big new $53 million initiative to push back against overfishing in the oceans, an issue that Bloomberg had never touched before. In February, it was a new $10 million initiative to stop children from drowning in Bangledesh, taking on a "global killer" that most donors would never think about. 

And now it's a $50 million push into global reproductive health and rights, which is also new terrain for Bloomberg. Yes, his foundation has been working to prevent maternal death since 2006, but now Bloomberg is looking upstream at how to empower women so they don't find themselves pregnant to begin with, unless that is their choice.

The new initiative follows up on a pledge that Bloomberg made at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, so this isn't such a big surprise. In fact, the first grant to honor that commitment was made last September. 

But the rollout of a full-fledged initiative is still big news for NGOs working on reproductive rights. Bloomberg Philanthropies doesn't tend to dabble in issues; it goes big, at least once it feels it has identified effective solutions that can absorb lots of cash. That will be increasingly true as Mike Bloomberg faces up to his mortality and being a signatory of the Giving Pledge. By my estimate, Bloomberg would have to move $1.5 billion out the door every year for the next decade or more to spend down even half his fortune before he gets too far into eighties. 

So, sure, maybe this $50 million is just Bloomberg making good on his 2012 commitment. Or maybe it's the tip of the spear, and much bigger money will flow in out years. I'd bet on the latter. 

But the really significant thing here is that Bloomberg is getting into the advocacy side of reproductive health, supporting such work in four countries: Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Uganda. That's also a departure from its past funding on maternal health, which focused on service delivery in Tanzania (and which Bloomberg is also ramping up). 

I know, I've buried the lead down here, which is that one of the world's richest men has jumped into one of the world's most intense culture wars—a war that is far hotter in a place like Nicaragua (which enacted a total ban on abortions in 2006), than in the United States. 

And although Bloomberg Philanthropies is only entering this fray in four countries, it will also start making rapid-response grants to "help governments and providers in 69 of the world’s poorest countries effectively deliver services." That sounds like a great way to collect intelligence about what battlefields to engage next on the advocacy side of things. 

A number of groups will get funding through this initiative, but Planned Parenthood Federation of America is the biggest organizational winner. Its global unit will take point on the advocacy work in the four countries, even though Bloomberg could have turned to half-a-dozen other outfits as partners. 

So why PPFA? Because apparently Bloomberg and his people have been hugely impressed with the sophistication of the group's online activities, particularly in the advocacy realm where it's able to mobilize serious numbers of people with the click of a mouse. 

PPFA's global unit hasn't been all that big. But we're betting it's going to become big.