"The work of suffragists like Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick should not be overlooked. However, while the invention was intended to empower women through choice, the current situation leaves women unaware of alternative options."
By staff writer, Marissa Cohen
The History of the Birth Control Pill
The politics of the birth control pill is nothing short of a touchy subject with rather polarizing opinions. Understandable, given its social significance. In the 1950s, some seriously kick arse women (and men) fought damn hard for access to funds to develop the birth control pill, with an ambition to allow women to take our reproductive health into our own hands. Serious props are deserved, without a doubt.
However, over time, the hormonal birth control pill has become a one stop band-aid solution to mask the symptoms of a host of women’s health issues, rather than addressing the root cause of their personal ailments. Period pain? The pill. Acne? The pill. Menstrual mood swings. Yep, you guessed it.
We want the Bootsy community to make informed decisions to determine what is right for them, and a crucial part of this is understanding the wider context and historical significance of the birth control pill. So here's the deal...
The Birth of Birth Control
The cultural ramifications of the widespread use of the pill are nearly impossible to measure.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger, American birth control advocate and nurse, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. While in her 80s during the 1950s, Sanger underwrote the research necessary to create the first human birth control pill. With the financial backing of women’s suffragist Katharine Dexter McCormick, the pill was born. The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraception in 1960 and in 1965 the Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the Constitution as a right to privacy. It wasn’t until the 70s that the pill became legally administered to unmarried women. Seen as a victory for the women’s right movement, most women believed the benefits of the pill far outweighed the risks.
Today, the pill is prescribed as the default drug for all menstrual health problems. A study conducted by Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute found that 58% of pill users “rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention.” Acne, PMS, or cramps? The pill! Painful, heavy periods or missing periods all together? The pill was the “answer.” The medical community upheld to the idea that the pill had the power to balance hormones, and thus became the “go to” solution. Women’s concerns were no longer heard and their conditions were no longer given proper consideration. Instead, they were written a prescription to cover the symptoms and told be conscious of the side effects. As a result, the CDC estimates that more than 10.6 million American women use oral contraception.
The Fine Print
Despite what it seems given its widespread use, the Pill it not a “magical pill.” Rather than balancing hormones, it shuts them off all together. There is a lack of understanding and proper education around how it affects the body. This is in part because the pill is a relatively new drug that has not been researched long-term. However, personal testimonies and reports reveal its negative side effects, some of which are may be irreversible.
The pill has been linked to microbiome disruption, increased risk of cancer, lower levels of thyroid and testosterone levels, increased risk of stroke and blood clots, increased inflammation, and nutrient depletion. Not to mention that almost 40% of pill users never get a regular period back after coming off the prescription. Beyond the physical symptoms, there appears to be repercussions on user’s mental health, as well. Women taking combined oral contraceptives were 23 percent more likely to be treated for depression; those on the progestogen-only pill (known as the mini-pill) were 34 per cent more likely. Teens taking the combined pill were discovered to be at greatest risk, with an 80 per cent increased likelihood of being prescribed antidepressants. It is no wonder that there has been a 13% decline in pill use by millennial women in Britain and 70% of millennial pill users in the US have stopped taking it or have thought about stopping in the past three years.
Moving Forward after taking a Peak in the Past
The work of suffragists like Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick should not be overlooked. However, while the invention was intended to empower women through choice, the current situation leaves women unaware of alternative options. Moving forward, the pill must develop with the rest of the world, as it essentially has not changed developed since the 1950s.
The more ubiquitous the use of the pill becomes, cracks that were initially masked by its own social significance are becoming harder to ignore. For those who are unwilling to bear the side effects and unknown of the pill, natural contraceptive methods are becoming more common.