By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
A once-a-month birth control pill has proven successful in animal testing, according to AP News. Development will continue for several years, but early test results are promising. Birth control has had a major impact on reproductive health and rights in the United States.
The new birth control pill has been designed to be taken orally just once a month, the AP News article said. It expands into a star-shaped device in a woman’s stomach and slowly releases its chemicals over time to prevent pregnancy. The types of birth control products available in the United States has grown to include a variety of options. Although reproduction health and rights is a hot-button political issue for many people worldwide, its legal history in America is both dynamic and important.
Margaret Sanger and the Comstock Laws
“The federal Comstock Act of 1873, and similar laws in several dozen states, made it illegal to sell or distribute any drug or device that could terminate or prevent a pregnancy,” said Dr. Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. “Even books, pamphlets, or advertisements that advocated such were illegal.”
However, the idea of the modern-day birth control pill was a dream of Margaret Sanger, a nurse and women’s rights advocate who coined the term “birth control” in 1914. Despite the Comstock Laws and the very real risk of arrest and prosecution, Sanger and others continued to provide women with safe, effective means of birth control.
“In 1936, a Supreme Court decision made it legal for doctors to mail contraceptives and birth control literature across state lines,” Dr. Kurin said. “Sales of [contraceptives] and instructional literature generated hundreds of millions of dollars. By the early 1950s, in addition to abstinence, the Catholic Church sanctioned the rhythm method as a natural means of birth control. On the rhythm method, you simply avoided intercourse during the most fertile days of the menstrual cycle.”
Birth Control Pill in American Culture
Also in the 1950s, according to Dr. Kurin, synthesis of the hormone progesterone made it possible to suppress ovulation. The pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle marketed the hormone, which was mixed with estrogen, as an oral contraceptive called Enovid, which they marketed as being prescribed for treating menstrual disorders.
“In May 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Searle’s request to manufacture and sell Enovid as the first birth control pill,” Dr. Kurin said. Hundreds of thousands of women took it, finding it to be a safe and effective method of contraception. “But opponents worried that the pill could herald a new sexual revolution, leading to promiscuity and moral decline.”
Despite the backlash, Enovid was implemented into American culture as a birth control pill and the world changed.
“The pill gave women a larger degree of freedom over their lives,” Dr. Kurin said. “It gave them a choice in timing their education, their career, and motherhood. The resulting cultural shifts gave rise to the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s.”
“Ultimately, it enabled women to attain high levels of educational and career achievement, and to occupy positions of power in the civic and political life of the nation.”
Dr. Richard Kurin contributed to this article. Dr. Kurin is the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. Dr. Kurin holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Philosophy from the University at Buffalo—The State University of New York. He earned both his M.A. and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.