A succinct history of the birth control pill

May 14, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

Time Magazine has published a fascinating 8-page history of the birth control pill. I learned many things that surprised me, including the fact that in 1957, 30 states still had laws against promoting birth control.

The 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception,” including providing contraception for married couples. In Griswold, Planned Parenthood’s Executive Director, a licensed physician and a professor at the Yale Medical School ran a medical clinic that “gave information, instruction, and medical advice to married persons as to the means of preventing conception. They examined the wife and prescribed the best contraceptive device or material for her use. Fees were usually charged, although some couples were serviced free.”

It’s incredible to think how much the world has changed since 1965  (the birth control pill first came to market in 1959).  Here’s one of the opening paragraphs from the Time article, which is well worth reading in its entirety:

Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it. It was blamed for unleashing the sexual revolution among suddenly swinging singles, despite the fact that throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to get it. Its supporters hoped it would strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children; its critics still charge that the Pill gave rise to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of the family. In 1999 the Economist named it the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, but Gloria Steinem, one of the era’s most influential feminists, calls its impact “overrated.” One of the world’s largest studies of the Pill — 46,000 women followed for nearly 40 years — was released this March. It found that women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, yet many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits.

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Category: Medicine, Reproductive Rights, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Fascinating. Despite the pill's ubiquity, a veil of taboo still enshrouds its use. To ensure high efficacy, most birth control pills must be taken at the same time every day, but I suspect many women forget or 'cheat' by a few hours because they don't want to whip out their pills in public. I take a daily birth control pill, and I am not shy about popping it from its conspicuous circular packaging and swallowing it in public when my daily 'time' comes.

    People do sometimes look at me as though I have done something socially inappropriate. Someone actually told me once that I might as well have whipped out a condom in that moment, my pill-taking was that suggestive of sexual activity. I know many many college-age girls who hide their contraceptive use from their progressive parents. I think it's just because there is a squicky admission of sexual activity inherent in the pill's use- whether actual,past, planned, or imagined. People should realize that the pill is taken daily, regardless of sexual activity, and that it requires devoted adherence to work in future instances. I'm not popping RU-486 pills, here. The ambivalence I've witnessed for b.c. is just silly.

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