Phil Harvey obituary | Contraception and family planning


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

While working in the Punjab, India in the 1960s for the Care International charity, Harvey became deeply uncomfortable with 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 provide help 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 one. He hypothesized that the most effective way to distribute condoms might be through social marketing techniques. This meant bypassing doctors and clinics and subsidizing their sale in mainstream stores 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 physician, 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 in the mail and ran some eye-catching ads in 300 college magazines with slogans such as “What are you going to get him this Christmas?” – Pregnant?”

It was a risky business because 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 followed. Emboldened, Harvey founded Adam & Eve in 1971, the first mail-order contraceptive company in the United States, which he quickly expanded to include the sale of erotic and sexual accessories and which now owns a chain of stores of detail.

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

Harvey resigned his post as PSI executive in 1977, believing it was wrong for the founder to stay at the helm indefinitely. At that time he was in any case involved in a second organization: Marie Stopes, now MSI Reproductive Choices. The London family planning clinic had run into financial difficulties, and in 1976 Harvey and Black saved it by buying out its original clinic in Whitfield Street. Harvey has become a long-term member of the board, helping him grow from 150,000 women per year in contraception and safe abortions in the 1970s to over 12 million per year today.

Finally, in 1989, Harvey founded DKT International, named in honor of his friend Dharmendra Kumar Tyagi, head of the family planning program in India. It works 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, Ill. To William, a farm tool supplier, and his wife, Lucy (née Smith). The youngest of five siblings, taciturn, private 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 quickly 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 prohibited 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 broadcasting obscenity. Ronald Reagan’s administration hoped to shut down the adult entertainment industry and sue the company in many different states, hoping the financial burden would cause it to collapse. 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 also successfully challenged Reagan’s Mexico City policy, known as the “global gag,” which sought to prevent any organization that received a grant from the United States Agency for International Development from practicing, doing reference or even talk about it, safe abortion. care.

Until the end of his life, Harvey supported organizations that fought to oppose government control over 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 safeguarding the law. freedom of expression. He has written about his work and philosophy in books including 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 her two children from a previous relationship and her three grandchildren.

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


Comments are closed.