A Towering Family Planning Pioneer’s Death Prompts Our Gratitude

By Donald A. Collins | 8 December 2021
Church and State

Phil Harvey: Pioneer of Social Marketing. (Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

On December 2nd a major leader in the too often attacked issue of providing women’s reproductive services Philip D. Harvey died at 83 here in the Washington DC area. Much of his brilliant approaches to the concept of Social Marketing, the core of his philosophy, can be read in this interview.

His life certainly confirmed the effectiveness of social marketing which can be defined as an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behavior for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole.

His passing comes at a time when central to reproductive rights, the legality of abortion, has come under serious and lethal attack against Roe/Casey in our ideologically stricken Supreme Court. But one of the many enterprises he initiated is Carafem, which will continue work for women’s choice under the leadership of its chief operations officer, Melissa Grant. Read about this agency here.

I first met Phil Harvey in about 1972 when I was the program officer in charge of seeking birth control investments for a charitable organization.

Harvey had by then founded two corporations, one a commercial venture called Adam and Eve, the other a non-profit, Population Services International (PSI), both highly illustrative of his broad understanding of human nature and human needs for responsible freedom without an overly intrusive government.

The first business began selling condoms but realized that market led to erotica or soft porn, which inspired government attacks which Phil, a staunch libertarian, defended with its profits to defeat these ridiculous prudish anti free speech lawsuits. Started in 1972 it is still going strong and is now the largest employer in Hillsborough, NC.

You can read about those here.

His web site allows you to learn about his social marketing modus operandi. Read here.

When I learned he and I were both born in Evanston, Illinois it probably biased and initiated my long affection for this brilliant caring avatar for human rights.

Of the two only PSI qualified for a charitable grant, but I found very positive his willingness with its co-founder Dr Tim Black, his co-collaborator, here to challenge sexual hypocrisy. As I investigated his application, I learned that they had not gotten major funding from others, probably due to ownership of Adam and Eve. Thus, I was delighted when my charitable employer made a sizable grant, perhaps the initial one of that size to PSI.

Phil’s other kindred spirit, Dr Tim Black, a UK OB/GYN, in the mid-1970s took over a largely moribund London NGO called Marie Stopes and turned it into an early abortion operation in which Phil was also involved. While Tim died some years ago, this agency still continues its vital work.

Subsequently I got to know Tim well and frequently sought his wise counsel when I served as the founding Chairman and President of Ipas, which widely used new non-surgical devices, called menstrual regulation kits which safely enabled trained midwives to perform early abortions worldwide.

Then as you can read here, he and Tim founded DKT which has had an enormous international impact in providing women with means to prevent unwanted pregnancies (and avoiding abortions). Your can read the story of this powerful family planning agency here.

In short, while many talk about and even vigorously advocate full women’s reproductive rights, no one in my long career in family planning has done more than Phil and Tim in making such services safe, inexpensive and legally available.

Phil’s wife, Harriet Lesser, an artist of huge talent, was his powerful soulmate who doubtless facilitated his tremendous accomplishments.

What a life well lived with a legacy that will continue to make choice in all options better for women and their families.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC, has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of “From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013”, “Trump Becoming Macbeth: Will our democracy survive?”, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion by 2100?” and “What Can Be Done Now to Save Habitable Life on Planet Earth?: Leaders Commit to Reduce Human Population”.

Phil Harvey: Pioneer of Social Marketing (full version)

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