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Birth Control

A Brief History of Birth Control

Prior to modern methods of birth control, women relied on withdrawal or periodic abstinence. These methods often failed.

Around 3000 B.C. — Condoms made from such materials as fish bladders, linen sheaths, and animal intestines.

Around 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, also known as “womb veils,” 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.

1960 – The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraception.”

1965 — The Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the Constitution as a “right to privacy.” However, millions of unmarried women in 26 states were still denied birth control.

1968 — FDA approved intrauterine devices (IUDs), bringing early versions like the Lippes Loop and Copper 7 to market.

1970 — Feminists challenged the safety of oral contraceptives (“the Pill”) at well-publicized Congressional hearings. As a result, the formulation of the Pill was changed, and the package insert for prescription drugs came into being.

1972 — The Supreme Court (in Baird v. Eisenstadt) legalized birth control for all citizens of this country, irrespective of marital status.

1974 — The FDA suspended sale of the Dalkon Shield IUD due to infections and seven documented deaths among users. Although other IUD designs were not implicated, most IUDs were slowly taken off the US market due to the escalating costs of lawsuits in subsequent years.

1980s – Pills with low doses of hormones were introduced, along with a new copper IUD, ParaGard (1998). (CuT380a).  Growing awareness of the Yuzpe regimen for emergency contraception.

1990s — Introduction of Norplant, the first contraceptive implant (1990),DepoProvera, an injectable method (1992), FC1/Reality, a female condom (1993) and Plan B, and a dedicated emergency contraceptive product (1999).

2000s — Rapid expansion in method availability and improvements in safety and effectiveness, including introduction of Mirena, a new levonorgestrel-releasing IUD (2000), Ortho Evra, a hormonal patch (2001), Nuvaring, a vaginal ring (2001), Essure, a method of transcervical female sterilization (2002), Implanon, a single-rod implant (2006), and FC2, an improved female condom (2009).

2002 – The first implant, Norplant, is taken off the US market.

2010s – Ella, a new emergency contraceptive pill (2010) and Skyla, a new levonorgestrel-releasing IUD (2013) are introduced.  Growing use of the copper IUD for emergency contraception.

2013 – After protracted regulatory and legal battles, one brand of emergency contraceptive pill (Plan B One-Step) becomes available without a prescription on drug store shelves.

Today — More research is needed on woman-controlled methods that protect against STIs and birth control for men. Barriers to accessing reliable contraception remain for women worldwide.

Written by: Kirsten Thompson
Last revised: February 2014

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