The Contraceptive Pill – One of the Most Influential Inventions of the 20th Century

Different kinds of birth control pills
Image: Ceridwen

On August 18, 1960, the first contraceptive pill Enovid went on public sale in the U.S. But the contraceptive pill was not available to married women in all states of the U.S. until 1972. Especially the Roman Catholic Church holds a strong position against the contraceptive pill, because according to her teachings artificial contraception distorts the nature and purpose of sex. According to the Economist, the contraceptive pill was one of the inventions that decisively shaped the 20th century.

Even though the first contraceptive pill entered the U.S. market in the 1960’s, it was researched on many years before. In 1921, Ludwig Haberlandt, an Austrian scientist developed first concepts for hormonal oral contraception, which he published in the same year. Unfortunately, he was not able to fulfill his masterpiece due to his early death in 1932. Still, he is known as the father of hormonal contraception. A few years later, in 1951 to be exact, scientists continued his work intensively until the release of Envoid in 1960. In the following years, the producers of similar pills also managed approvals in Germany and Australia. In East Germany, the pill was even distributed for free to all women in need of it.

However, the success of the new pill collided with the moral believes wherefore it was originally sold as a medicament fighting menstrual cramps. Still, the Catholic church tried to prevent the distribution of the pill just like any other contraceptive even though the organisation loosened its ‘regulations’ in the past years.

In society, the pill opened up new possibilities for women and enabled them to make own decisions on their bodies and their lives. Especially, when it was also made available to unmarried women in the 1970’s, about 75% of the 18 and 19 year olds used this method. The contraceptive pill meant more than just the ability to have or not to have a child to young women in the 1960’s. Birth control meant the freedom to be an equal member of society (at least it was a start) and it meant freedom to work and educate themselves before deciding to begin a family life, or not.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Robert Wyman on the also controversial topic Global Demography of Abortion as part of the series ‘Global Problems of Population Growth’ at Yale University.

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