History of the Pill
The U.S. Congress passes the Comstock Law, which prohibits the distribution of
obscene material through the U.S. mail or across state lines. It specifically
identifies contraceptives as obscene.
Radical feminist Margaret Sanger conceives of a "magic pill" contraceptive.
Sanger later founded the American Birth Control League, which eventually
became the Planned Parenthood Federation.
On August 15, the Lambeth Conference (a periodic meeting of the Anglican
Church's bishops) approves the use of contraceptives. This was a radical
departure from the constant Christian tradition of considering contraception
immoral. After 1930, other Protestant denominations begin to allow
contraception. On December 31, Pope Pius XI issues the encyclical Casti
Connubii (Of Chaste Marriage), which, among other things, reaffirms the
Catholic Church's constant teaching against contraception and abortion.
Sanger obtains a Planned Parenthood grant for Dr. Gregory Pincus, a biologist,
to research hormonal contraceptives, but the funding soon runs out. Earlier,
Pincus had shocked the public by his in vitro fertilization of rabbits.
Sanger convinces Katharine McCormick, a radical feminist and wealthy
philanthropist, to fund the pill research project and Pincus continues his
Pincus and Dr. John Rock, a Catholic ob-gyn who violates Church teachings by
advocating contraception, begin human trials of the pill. To bypass
Massachusetts's anti-birth control laws, they claim the study is about infertility.
Fifty female infertility patients volunteer to participate in the study, but the pill
is also given to 12 female and 16 male psychiatric patients without their direct
The pill is proven to prevent ovulation in all 50 women. Pincus presents the
findings at the Fifth Annual International Planned Parenthood League
conference in Tokyo, Japan and Rock does the same at the Laurentian
Conference on Endocrinology in Canada. The news that a birth control pill has
been developed then spreads rapidly among scientists.
Large-scale human clinical trials of the pill begin, to gain approval by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pincus chooses Puerto Rico as the location
because it provides a large pool of poor, uneducated women who can be easily
monitored. The local doctor in charge of the study tells Pincus that the pill
causes "too many side reactions to be generally acceptable." However, Pincus
and Rock dismiss her findings and do not investigate what causes the side
effects, nor do they investigate the cause of death for three women who die
during the trials.
The FDA approves usage of the pill to treat severe menstrual disorders and
requires that its packaging include a warning that it will prevent ovulation.
The pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle obtains FDA approval to sell the pill
as a contraceptive, despite the FDA's initial misgivings about its long-term
safety. It becomes the first FDA-approved drug to be given to healthy patients
for long-term use and for social purposes.
Dr. C. Lee Buxton, Yale Medical School's OB-GYN department chairman, and
Estelle Griswold, executive director of Planned Parenthood, open four Planned
Parenthood clinics in Connecticut, where the use of birth control is illegal. They
are arrested and the Griswold v. Connecticut case begins to work its way
through the court system.
Serious side effects from the pill, such as blood clots and heart attacks, begin
to be publicized. Searle receives reports of 132 blood clots, 11 of which were
terminal, but denies that they are caused by the pill.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides Griswold v. Connecticut by overturning the
law prohibiting the use of birth control, thereby decriminalizing poison in the
form of the pill.
The Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People accuses Planned Parenthood of promoting birth control in
minority neighborhoods in order to drastically reduce the black birth rate. The
term "black genocide" thus comes into use.
Pope Paul VI issues the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which
reiterates the Catholic Church's consistent prohibition of contraception,
sterilization and abortion. Humanae Vitae warns prophetically that "artificial
birth control... could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general
lowering of moral standards" and that "a man who grows accustomed to the
use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and...
reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires,
no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care
The publication of The Doctor's Case against the Pill, by feminist journalist
Barbara Seaman, focuses nationwide attention on the pill's dangerous side
The negative publicity from Seaman's book results in Senate hearings on the
pill's safety and the FDA requiring that prescriptions include package inserts
listing the pill's side effects. After the hearings, pills with lower doses of
hormones were made available.
Through its Eisenstadt v. Baird decision, the U.S. Supreme Court allows single
people to have access to birth control products.
The FDA convinces drug companies to remove the original high-dose pill from
The birth control pill and other birth control products have a lower dose of
estrogen, which increases the chance of breakthrough ovulation and thus
increases the likelihood of chemical abortions occurring. Even with the lower
dose, the pill still has other dangerous side effects such as blood clots, breast
cancer, stroke, cervical cancer, infertility, weight gain and much more. For
more information on the pill's side effects,
PBS Online, American Experience. "Timeline: The Pill (Genesis - 1950)" Public Broadcasting Service.
PBS Online, American Experience. "Timeline: The Pill (1951 - 1990)" Public Broadcasting Service.
PBS Online, American Experience. "People & Events: The Puerto Rico Pill Trials" Public Broadcasting Service.
Casti Connubii: Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage. December 31, 1930.
Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI. July 25, 1968.
Alcorn, Randy. "Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?" Eternal Perspective Ministries.