Little Bits of History

The Pill

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 11, 2012

John Rock

May 11, 1960: The first contraceptive pill is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Searle produced Enovid, the first drug to prevent a medical happening. In 1959, they began the process to license the “Pill” as an oral contraceptive. Dr. John Rock was chosen to present the findings to the FDA. Dr. Rock was a 70-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, teaching the subjects at Harvard for more than thirty years. He was also a staunch Catholic. In the 1930s he started the first clinic to educate Catholic couples on the calendar-based methods of birth control, i.e. the rhythm method.

By the 1940s, Dr. Rock was teaching birth control to his medical students, a preposterous notion at the time. In 1949 he coauthored Voluntary Parenthood, explaining various birth control methods to the general public. In the early 1950s, he was approached to help with early studies of the Pill. After getting FDA approval, Dr. Rock unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Vatican to give its approval as well. The Pill contained the same hormones as naturally appear, so Rock felt it was a natural method of controlling conception, like the rhythm method. Not so the Pope.

Women have sought to control their bodies since time immemorial. There are three basic ways to do this. The first is to prevent fertilization, the second is to prevent implantation, and the third is to chemically or surgically remove a fetus. Once someone noticed the connection between coitus and pregnancy, they could start on regulating the chances of conception. Some herbs have been used to induce an abortive episode. Coitus interruptus has been used, not always with success. Ancient Egyptians used a pessary, or an early diaphragm. In the 10th century Islamic medical encyclopedia, Hawi, there were 176 different birth control substances listed.

Margaret Sanger was an American birth control advocate and founder of the American Birth Control League, today known as Planned Parenthood. She opened the way for the West to get fully involved in pregnancy control. Today there are several different barrier methods, some used alone and some in conjunction with chemical spermicides. The Pill has changed over the years; there are now lower doses and sometimes synthetic hormones are used. Some are absorbed through the skin while others are taken by mouth. Some types are implanted. There is morning after medication and IUDs to keep fertilized ovum from implanting. Permanent sterilization for both men and women are available. Abortions are also an option.

Contraceptives should be used on every conceivable occasion. – Spike Milligan

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry. – H.L. Mencken

I want to tell you a terrific story about oral contraception.  I asked this girl to sleep with me and she said ‘No.’ – Woody Allen

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.  No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. – Margaret Sanger

Also on this day:

Man Against Machine – In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue became a chess champion.
Beagle – In 1820, the HMS Beagle was launched.
Pullman – In 1894, a wildcat strike against Pullman Palace Car Co. began.

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