The birth control pill is the practical symbol of women's power, but it took two dedicated men, a childless woman and Margaret Sanger to make it possible\
May 10 marks anniversary – the 56th- of the birth control pill in America. The Searle Pharmaceutical Company had introduced Enovid which was the first commercial oral contraceptive or birth control pill in 1957, and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the birth control pill on Tuesday, May 10, 1960 .
Natazia, a Descendant of Enovid is Approved
Another birth control bill anniversary occurred on May 6, 2010, when the Food and Drug Administration approved Bayer AG’s new birth control pill Natazia. Already licensed in Europe under the brand name, Qlaira, Natazia is the first four-phase oral contraceptive marketed in the United States. Natazia delivers different doses of the hormones progestin four times during each 28 day cycle.
According to Dr. Scott Monroe of the FDA, nearly 12 million women in the United States and more than 100 million worldwide currently use oral contraceptives.”
The social and cultural effects of the original birth control Enovid, and its empowerment of women are still causing ripples in the United States and around the world.
CBS Poll Finds a Majority Believes Birth Control Pill Has Had Significant Impact on Society
A CBS news poll conducted on May 4 and 5th, 2010, found approximately 52 percent of the American public believes that the birth control pill has been one of the most significant medical developments of the last fifty years.
Most Americans say that the birth control pill has significantly impacted American society and the lives of individual women, helping them enter the work force and giving them control of their reproductive lives. Fifty nine percent of men, 54 percent of women, and 54 percent of women who have ever taken the pill say that the birth control pill has improved women’s lives.
Dispensing Contraceptives and Birth Control Information was Illegal in the 1950s
The 1950s were a decade of technological wonders and miracle drugs, but the scientific world still bowed to cultural and legal pressures when it came to contraceptives. Cultural institutions like churches feared that widely available contraceptives would produce sexual anarchy. Many people believed that fear of pregnancy was the most effective birth control pill.
One of the most outspoken advocates of birth control, Margaret Sanger, spoke from personal experience. Her mother had become pregnant 18 times, born eleven live children, and died at age 49. This life was common in 19th century America, and because of her mother’s experience and her poverty stricken childhood, Margaret Sanger dreamed of a simple pill that would make it possible for women to control their pregnancies. She challenged the Comstock Laws that made selling contraceptive devices and distributing birth control information illegal.
Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick Meet Gregory Pincus
Margaret Sanger challenged the Comstock Laws by repeatedly breaking them and going to jail, and women who were desperate for birth control information and means enthusiastically supported her.
In the spring of 1953, Margaret Sanger and her friend Katharine Dexter McCormick, 78, met reproductive physiologist, Gregory Pincus at a laboratory in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He had made important discoveries about the hormone progesterone involved in human reproduction, but because he believed in birth control technology his alma mater Harvard had denied him tenure and Searle, the company he worked for, had deemed him a failure. He tested the effects of progesterone on rabbits and found it effective in preventing pregnancy, but he couldn’t legally test it on humans.
Birth Control a Precondition of the Liberation of Women
Katharine McCormick had earned a degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and both she and Margaret Sanger and embraced a feminism that said that women could not be truly liberated without birth control and that women had to be enabled to control birth control technologies. Katharine’s training in biology enabled her to ask Gregory Pincus intelligent questions about his work, and she wrote him a check for $40,000, promising more to come.
Eventually, Pincus enlisted the help of Dr. John Rock, one of the most respected infertility specialists in the country and a devoted Catholic. In 1954, he convinced Dr. Rock to test progesterone in the form of a pill on a group of 50 women under the guise of conducting an infertility study. Not one of the women ovulated.
Birth Control Pill Trials in Puerto Rico
There were no Comstock Laws in Puerto Rico, and although the majority of its citizens were Catholic, women were mostly concerned with quality of everyday life for themselves and their children. The women of Rio Piedras, a new housing project, eagerly participated in the first widespread trial of the contraceptive pill in April 1956. After a nine month trial, Dr. Rock and his Puerto Rican colleagues reported that the pill was 100 percent effective.
Despite Reservations, Searle Manufactures and Markets the Pill
It took Gregory Pincus another year to convince Searle to manufacture the pill, because Searle was both tempted and terrified of the pill. They could see the financial boon of manufacturing a pill that millions of healthy women would take for their entire reproductive lives, but also in the 1950s Roman Catholics comprised 25 percent of the American population.
Searle and other drug companies were terrified that if they produced and marketed a birth control pill, the Catholic population would not buy it and they would boycott its other products. Finally in 1957, Searle took a tentative step and released the pill under the name of Enovid, advertising it as a treatment for menstrual disorders. Everyone knew that the pill suppressed ovulation and over the next two years, 500,000 women got prescriptions for the pill.
On May 11, 1960, seven years after Katharine McCormick gave Gregory Pincus his first check, the FDA approved the birth control pill. As Gregory Pincus had told Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick, “everything is possible in science.”