Family planning

Phil Harvey’s obituary | Contraception and family planning

American social entrepreneur Phil Harvey, who died at the age of 83, made contraception affordable for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world with grants provided by profits from Adam & Eve, the company a sex shop he founded in 1970. A committed libertarian, Harvey has also used his considerable resources to advocate for the right to sexual health care and free speech in the United States.

While working in Punjab, India in the 1960s for the charity Care International, Harvey became deeply uneasy about the way Western countries were distributing aid. A woman in a threadbare sari knelt before him in gratitude for the food he was distributing, and he became determined to find a way to give aid that did not humiliate the recipients.

He also began to believe that the most pressing need of people in developing countries was better access to family planning, and that contraceptive distribution was inherently a marketing issue rather than a medical issue. He speculated that the most effective way to distribute condoms might be through social marketing techniques. This involved bypassing doctors and clinics and subsidizing their sale in ordinary shops or market stalls, promoted by local advertising campaigns.

Returning to the United States in 1969, Harvey studied public health at the University of North Carolina, where he met a British doctor, Tim Black, who shared his zeal for family planning. Eager to test Harvey’s social marketing ideas, they decided to see if they could persuade people in the United States to buy condoms through the mail, and ran eye-catching ads in 300 college magazines with slogans such as “What are you going to get her this Christmas – Pregnant?”

This was a risky business as it was illegal at the time to send contraceptives (considered an “obscene product”) through the US postal system. However, an avalanche of orders arrived and no pursuit was initiated. Emboldened, in 1971 Harvey founded Adam & Eve, the first mail-order contraceptive company in the United States, which he soon expanded to include the sale of erotica and sexual aids and now has a chain of retail stores.

Business boomed, and using profits from Adam & Eve, Harvey and Black founded Population Services International (PSI) a non-profit organization that launched a social marketing program to sell condoms in Kenya. Adam & Eve’s customers had no idea they were subsidizing cheap contraception overseas, and Harvey saw no reason to advertise the connection, arguing that altruism exists in a different part of the brain than wanting to have a good time on a Saturday night. When it came to starting overseas programs, he was also a hands-off manager, believing in hiring the best people locally, laying out your vision, and then allowing them to use their initiative to achieve the desired outcome.

Harvey resigned from the leadership of PSI in 1977, believing that the founder was wrong to remain at the helm indefinitely. At that time he was involved in a second organization anyway: Marie Stopes, today MSI reproductive choices. The family planning clinic in London had run into financial difficulties and in 1976 Harvey and Black saved it by buying up its original clinic in Whitfield Street. Harvey became a long-term member of the board, helping it grow from 150,000 women a year providing contraception and safe abortions in the 1970s to more than 12 million a year today.

Finally, in 1989, Harvey founded DKT International, named after his friend Dharmendra Kumar Tyagi, head of India’s family planning program. It operates similarly to PSI, has subsidized the sale of over a billion inexpensive contraceptives in 90 countries, and is active in sex education and HIV prevention.

Harvey was born in Evanston, Illinois to William, a farm implement supplier, and his wife, Lucy (née Smith). The youngest of five siblings, taciturn, reserved and a deep thinker, he went to Harvard University in 1957 to study Slavic languages ​​and literature. In 1963 he joined Care International to work in India, spending several years with the organization before returning to the United States and branching out with Black.

As the head of Adam & Eve and a committed libertarian, Harvey soon found himself embroiled in legal battles to defend people’s access to sexual health care. In 1977, he challenged a New York state law that banned the advertising and display of contraceptives. The case went to the Supreme Court and he won, arguing that advertising was protected by the First Amendment and the right to free speech.

In 1986, the offices of Adam & Eve were raided by police and Harvey was charged with spreading obscenity. Ronald Reagan’s administration hoped to shut down the adult entertainment industry and filed lawsuits against the company in many different states, hoping the financial burden would cause it to relent. But Harvey fought back, winning a lawsuit against the Justice Department in 1990 on the grounds that he had abused his power.

In 1987, he had also successfully challenged Reagan’s policy in Mexico City, known as the “Global Gag”, which sought to prevent any organization receiving a grant from the United States Agency for International Development from practicing, referring or even to talk about safe abortion. care.

Until the end of his life, Harvey supported organizations that fought to oppose government control of people’s privacy. He also founded the DKT Liberty Project, which campaigns on issues such as preventing the government from confiscating people’s property, helping patients access medical marijuana and protecting the right to free speech. He has written about his work and philosophy in books such as Let Every Child Be Wanted (1999) and The Government vs Erotica (2001). He was also a novelist, writing, among other titles, the psychological thriller Show Time (2012).

In 1990 Harvey married artist Harriet Lesser. She survives him, as do his two children from a previous relationship and his three grandchildren.

Philip Dow Harvey, social entrepreneur, born April 25, 1938; passed away on December 2, 2021