There was a time when women, in order to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancy, would risk their lives by inserting coat hangers or knitting needles into their vagina to abort a child. Abortion, which refers to the process of terminating pregnancy after a woman has conceived, is debated largely even today. One better way to avoid the circumstances that lead to abortion is to go for birth control options that inhibit pregnancy in the first place. Today, there are a number of birth control options available including contraceptive pill, patch, vaginal ring, IUD, diaphragm, male condom, female condom and implant, but the most popular one is the use of birth control pills. Statistics show that about 62% women in child-bearing age in USA are currently on contraceptive pills, and about 99% women aged between 15-44 years have taken contraceptive pill at least once to avoid unintended pregnancy (Guttmacher Institute 2013). This paper would discuss in detail the history of birth control pill, how it works and its impact on American society.
History of Birth Control Pill
The invention of the first oral contraceptive pill 'Enovid' is credited to Frank Colton. Enovid was made available to public in 1960. Besides Frank Colton, a host of other people and organizations including Margaret Sanger, Gregory Pincus, John Rock, Katharine McCormick, Syntex, S.A. Laboratories, and G.D. Searle and Company Laboratories have also contributed to the creation of birth control technology (Buttar and Seward 2013). It was Margaret Sanger who first came up with the idea of birth control pill, and she met Gregory Pincus in 1951 to discuss the same. Biologist Katherine McCormick, heiress to an enormous wealth, funded the project of developing contraceptive pill by contributing a whopping amount of $40,000 for the research purpose (Nikolchev 2010).
With Gregory Pincus at the helm of the project, John Rock, a gynecologist, was responsible for conducting the clinical tests of the pill. Meanwhile, two scientists, namely, Carl Djerassi, working for Syntex, and Frank Colton, working for Searle, invented two similar synthetic hormones called norethindrone and norethynodrel in 1951 and 1953 respectively (Gossett 2012). Both norethindrone and norethynodrel had the potential of being developed into contraceptive pill. Since the progesterone hormone used in Enovid was norethynodrel, Frank Colton is given the credit for the creation of the first birth control pill. Rock and Pincus tested the pill on 50 women effectively in Boston, Massachusetts in 1954, and clinical trials were conducted on a massive scale in Puerto Rico in 1956 by Dr. Edris Rice-Wray (Buttar and Seward 2013). Initially, the FDA approved Enovid in 1957 merely for severe menstrual disorders. It was in 1960 that the pill received the approval for contraceptive purpose (Nikolchev 2010).
How Does It Work?
The birth control pill consists of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Enovid, when it was invented, contained 10 milligrams of progesterone and 100-175 micrograms of estrogen, but the amount of hormones was later reduced owing to harmful side effects. The contraceptive pills used by women today contain only 1 milligram of progesterone and 30 micrograms of estrogen (Gossett 2012). When a woman takes a birth control pill, she develops the feeling of being pregnant because an increase in the level of estrogen hormone impedes ovulation by suppressing the luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and resultantly, the pituitary gland is tricked into thinking of the body being pregnant. A boost in progesterone hormone also impedes ovulation by curbing the LH, and it further inhibits the implantation of the egg by hampering the movement of sperm (Gossett 2012). In order for the birth control pills to be 100% effective in result, a woman needs to take it at the same time each day for three weeks every month after she starts her period (Gossett 2012).
The Impact of the Pill on American Society
The invention of birth control pill has had many effects on American society, for both better and worse. The pill empowered women, whose lives were constricted by the limitations of their own sexuality, to regulate their fertility. They could choose to build their career first before assuming the responsibility of raising children. In 1960s, an employer could easily fire a woman if she became pregnant, without any compensation. Therefore, an unplanned pregnancy could easily derail a woman's career and jeopardize her financial condition (CNN 2010). The pill gave women the weapon of their choice to regulate and shape their lives the way they wanted. The pill gave women a sexual freedom. Sex was no longer a risky affair with undesired consequences. The pill helped women decide when they were ready to commit themselves to the responsibility of bearing and raising children in accordance with their physical, emotional and financial preparation. Since children born out of planned pregnancy are better cared for, the pill helped raise a generation of well-provided children (CNN 2010).
However, the invention of the pill also involves some unintended consequences. The unbridled sexual freedom has led women to promiscuity and infidelity. Sex, which was once a means to reproduction, has become an instrument for physical pleasure. Having removed the chances of undesired pregnancy, the pill has brought in an era of sexual revolution in which partners engage in sex purely for sexual gratification. The invention of birth control pill has also exposed women to the risk of developing breast cancer. Many studies show that women who started using birth control pills in teenage years are prone to develop breast cancer later in their life. However, the risk diminishes considerably if women stop using the pills for 10 years or more (NCI 2014).
Though a number of birth control options are available to women today, the most popular contraceptive method still is the consumption of birth control pills. Enovid was the first birth control pill made available to public in 1960. A group of people and organizations including Frank Colton, Margaret Sanger, Gregory Pincus, John Rock, Katharine McCormick, Syntex, S.A. Laboratories, and G.D. Searle and Company Laboratories are the masterminds behind the creation of Enovid. A typical birth control pill consisting of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, functions by impeding ovulation in women and hampering the transportation of sperms. The advent of the pill has made both positive and negative impact on the American society. On one hand, women have become empowered to take constructive career decisions by regulating their fertility and avoiding unwanted pregnancy. On the other hand, the sexual freedom introduced by the pill has led women to promiscuity and infidelity. However, the positive results of the pill far outweigh the negative ones because it has created a generation of happy and liberal women in control of their own body.
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Gossett, Kris. The Invention of the Birth Control Pill. Hubpages. 18 Apr 2012. Web. 17 Jun 2014 <http://krisgossett.hubpages.com/hub/The-Invention-of-the-Birth-Control-Pill>
Nikolchev, Alexandra. A brief history of the birth control pill. PBS. 7 May 2010. Web. 17 Jun 2014 <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/health/a-brief-history-of-the-birth-control-pill/480/>
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