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A Brief History of Birth Control
- Prior to any developed methods of birth control, women had to rely on male withdrawal, and on crude infanticide and abortion for backup.
- 3000 B.C. — Condoms made from such materials as fish bladders, linen sheaths, and animal intestines.
- 1500— First spermicides introduced which used condoms made from linen cloth sheaths and soaked in a chemical solution and dried before using.
- 1838— Condoms and diaphragms made from vulcanized rubber.
- 1873— The Comstock Act passed in the United States prohibiting advertisements, information, and distribution of birth control and allowing the postal service to confiscate birth control sold through the mail.
- 1916—Margaret Sanger opens first birth control clinic in the United States. The next year she was deemed guilty of “maintaining a public nuisance” and sentenced to jail for 30 days. Once released, she re-opened her clinic and continued to persevere through more arrests and prosecutions.
- 1938—In a case involving Margaret Sanger, a judge lifted the federal ban on birth control, ending the Comstock era. Diaphragms became a popular method of birth control.
- 1950—While in her 80s, Sanger underwrote the research necessary to create the first human birth control pill. She raised $150,000 for the project, and in 1960 the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was marketed in the United States as invented by Frank Colton.
- 1965—The Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) established the right of married couples to use birth control as protected in the Constitution as a “right to privacy.” However, millions of unmarried women in 26 states were still denied birth control.
- 1960s—Intrauterine devices (IUDs) first manufactured and marketed in the United States.
- Late 1960s—Feminists challenged the safety of oral contraceptives (“the Pill”) as a result of confirmed serious health risks associated with it. Successful efforts led by feminist groups and consumer activists, along with well-publicized congressional hearings, led to modifications of the Pill.
- 1972— The Supreme Court (in Baird v. Eisenstadt) legalized birth control for all citizens of this country, irrespective of marital status.
- 1975—The Dalkon Shield, a popular IUD, recalled under charges that it had caused infertility in thousands of users. Although other IUD designs were not implicated, all IUDs were taken off the market under fear of litigation.
- 1980s and 1990s—Hormonal birth control methods expanded to include implants and injectables. Low-dose pills were introduced.
- 1992—Emergency contraception became more widely available as a result of public awareness campaign.
- 1990s—Rapid expansion in method availability and improvements in safety and effectiveness, including introduction of the hormonal patch, vaginal ring, new injectables, single rod implants, and transcervical female sterilization.
- 2000s—Female condoms are introduced.
- Today—More research is needed in woman-controlled methods that protect against STIs.
- Today—Barriers to access to reliable contraception remain for women world-wide.
Last revised: May 2012
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