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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guest Post by Annie Potter


Controversial and Chaotic Contraceptives

The pill was one of the most controversial issues raised in the 20th century. During this period of time there was a real concern of overpopulation worldwide and the dwindling amount of resources. “ Thus fear of self-annihilation through the depletion of natural resources meshed easily with Cold War concerns about the spread of communism and nuclear extinction”[Andrea Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001, 200-292].

Feminists feared that the big drug corporations were using women as guinea-pigs to further the development of the birth control pill. To women in the 20th century it was freedom, freedom to control one’s body. Filled with fear and suspicion the African-American population considered the pill a form of racial genocide. “Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s nationalists reiterated the long standing fear that birth control would lead to race suicide by subduing the size and strength of the black population. African-Americans could not afford attrition at the time when blacks had finally gained, through the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the promise of universal suffrage. Large black families were the community’s insurance against racial experimentation, its best promise for political and social gain” [Tone, 254-255].

Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick took interest in the pursuit of the birth control pill. A pill that would place women in control of their bodies. In Margaret Sanger’s point of view the pill would liberate women from the control and reliability of men to prevent pregnancies. “ The pill accomplished what the diaphragm had not. It created widespread doctor and patient acceptance of medical birth control” [Tone,201]. With the determination of Sanger and the financial backing of McCormick the development of pill would occur through the work of two scientists (Dr. Pincus and Dr.Rock). Although Sanger was a supporter of the pill McCormick kept a close watch on Pincus and the development of the pill. The first large-scale clinical trial for birth control was held in Puerto Rico where Pincus believed was far away from the probing American media. The result of the trial proved mediocre at best and several horrible side effects occurred. “ Then too, there were the medical side effects: nausea, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain, and vomiting” [Tone, 223]. Pincus thought the side effects were minimal enough that the pill still could be marketed within the United States. In 1957, the oral contraceptive Enovid was released to the general public. Most American women overlooked the side effects because the benefit of non-pregnancy was extremely effective. This opportunity provided women with choices concerning family matters and career aspirations.

Although the birth control pill was a promising contraceptive IUDs would become America’s most used contraceptive. “ In this political climate, the development of intrauterine devices seemed a godsend. Cheaper than the pill, virtually impossible for a women to remove, and requiring only a single ‘ motivated’ act--the decision to have one inserted--the IUD seemed too good to be true” [Tone, 263]. The most notable and infamous IUD is the Dalkon Shield created by Hugh Davis. Later Irwin Lerner modified the Dalkon Shield and filed a patent as the sole inventor. The Dalkon Shield was released in 1968 and over two million women used it. The Dalkon Shield was cited as the most effective and safe IUD in the market. Later the Dalkon Shield would prove to be anything by reliable or safe. The “Dalkon Shield caused over 200,000 infections, miscarriages, hysterectomies, and other gynecological complications and led to an untold number of birth defects , caused by contact between the device and the developing fetus” [Tone, 279]. Unfortunately, the FDA had limited power to regulate the medical device industry. Only after the fact of ineffectiveness and danger could the FDA remove the product.“ In 1984, the company’s legal team was rattled by the actions of Judge Miles Lord, a federal judge in Minnesota who had been assigned to hear twenty-three Dalkon Shield cases...The judge’s consolidation order denied the company the opportunity to defend itself by examining and attacking each plaintiff’s sexual history” [Tone, 281]. Dalkon Shield lost the lawsuit and thus resulted in the recall of the product in 1984.

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