Margaret Sanger and The History of The Birth Control Pill

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From prehistoric condoms made of animal intestines to vulcanized rubber diaphragms, contraception has come a long way in the United States. Birth control today is as easy as getting a single implant that remains effective for years.

With all the modern advances in pregnancy prevention, the birth control pill has continued to be one of the most popular forms of contraception available for women in America and all over the world. The existence of a safe and reliable oral contraceptive is the result of years of education, research, and effort pioneered by one fierce woman—Margaret Sanger.

Margaret’s commitment to the birth control movement was inspired by the death of her mother.

Anne Higgins died of tuberculosis when she was about 50 years old, and her daughter Margaret was in her late teens. Her health had deteriorated as a result of 11 births and 7 miscarriages. Margaret attributed her mother’s death and their life in poverty to Anne’s inability to control her own reproductive health.

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Sanger’s work as a nurse further solidified her conviction that every woman should have the right to contraception.

In her early adult years, Margaret worked as a nurse in the Lower East Side of NYC. She saw many women face unwanted pregnancies and the effects of botched abortions. Through her own experience and that of the patients she saw, she became convinced that the inability to control family size kept women in a cycle of poverty.

Sanger made it her mission to educate women about birth control and give them easy access to contraception.

As she devoted more and more of her time to the advocation of birth control, Margaret began writing a newspaper column to spread information she felt women needed—and deserved—to know about their own reproductive choices.

After starting her own publication, The Woman Rebel, in 1914 to promote birth control, she was charged with violating the Comstock Act (prohibiting the circulation of “obscene and immoral materials”). Margaret fled to England until the charges were dropped, returning to the U.S. in 1915.

In 1916, Margaret opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S.

Soon after the opening, Margaret was charged again and arrested for breaking the Comstock laws. She spent a month in jail and reopened the clinic upon her release. Her arrest and determination caught the attention of the media and a number of wealthy supporters, as did her attempt to appeal her conviction.

Although she was denied an appeal, the court ruled that women could be prescribed birth control for medical reasons. This allowed Margaret the legal loophole she needed for her next project.

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Margaret opened an entirely female-staffed birth control clinic in 1923 that would later become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Through her clinic and the founding of her organization, the American Birth Control League (the precursor to today’s Planned Parenthood), she continued to provide contraception, advocate for the legalization of and a woman’s right to birth control, and even push for the development of new contraceptives.

Margaret Sanger initiated the research and development of the first birth control pill.

Margaret always had the idea in her head of a “magic pill” women could use for contraception and sought to make it a reality. In the 1950s, she recruited medical expert in human reproduction Gregory Pincus to help her develop a birth control pill.

Their collaboration, sponsored by International Harvester heiress Katharine McCormick, led to the first oral contraceptive pill—Enovid—approved by the FDA in 1960.

Thanks to Margaret Sanger, and the effort of many other men and women who fought for the legalization of birth control and a woman’s right to contraception, most of today’s contraceptives are safe, reliable, and easy to use.

South Avenue Women’s Services is committed to continuing the effort of these dedicated individuals by offering a wide range of birth control options for pregnancy prevention. For more information on family planning and the different types of contraception we have available, contact our compassionate medical professionals today!