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Birth Control

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Women’s Liberation Through the Pill

Many times through the course of history, discoveries are made that allow scientist to play Mother Nature with the human body. Obviously medical advances are useful in fighting diseases and disorders of the body, yet at times it seems as if scientist are crossing a thin line. Often, what seems to be a miracle sometimes turns into disaster. The Birth Control pill is one of those innovations that still is hotly criticized even forty-five years after the making. The questions still remain as to if the Pill is a miracle or a disaster. Debate is strong on whether this pill has helped society or hindered it and if the use of birth control diminishes ones values.

The History of Birth Control

The idea of women wanting to control the amount of children they have has probably been around since the beginning in time. The oldest accounts of the use of birth control stem from between 2000 and 1000 B.C from Egypt. Concoctions of animal dung, honey and other gum like substances or sponges soaked in vinegar were used as spermicidal agents, yet many times ineffective. History also shows a long trend of birth control being the woman’s responsibility. Yet early modern medicine introduced the condom in the sixteenth century. Gabriele Fallopius, an Italian anatomist, is recognized for his work with venereal diseases and the creation of a “sheath” to protect men from getting them. (Bullough and Bullough, 1994)

It was not for a few more centuries that good contraceptives would be developed. Many things hindered scientist in their work. The most difficult obstacle was that there was limited knowledge of the reproductive system until the twentieth century. An equally hindering factor was the ideals of contraceptives and sex of earlier times.

The history of these efforts at public awareness is a checkered one and the ultimate success is due to two more or less conflicting groups who became interested in the problem: (1) the radicals who saw the continuous burden of childbirth as destructive to women and who realized that large families in an industrial society were a cause of poverty rather than a support as they had been in earlier agricultural societies, and (2) the eugenicists, most of whom were upper-class people who believed that the world's resources were limited and that unless the poor "stopped breeding" and the rich increased their reproductive rate, civilization would collapse. . (Bullough and Bullough, 1994)

Although seemingly odd points of view in recent times these two groups slowed down the progress of developing solid birth control methods but also started the movement for the equal use of birth control.

Although birth control methods have improved over the years the ideology behind its use has remained the same in many religious sectors. The practice of celibacy has deep roots in Christian history and is still encouraged in the Catholic religion, Many religions however have deep opposing views to the practice of using other birth control methods other than celibacy and careful planning to deter a unwanted pregnancy. Many religions carry the notion that the sole purpose of sexual intercourse is merely for procreation.

During the time the radicals and eugenicist were debating they both looked to religion to settle the debate, in the form of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus believed that people needed to control their sexual urges, so as not to overpopulate the world. He felt as if people were possessed by sexual urges and simply should deter them. Because Malthus was compelled to think this was just a matter of self-control he opposed the use of contraceptives.

During the start of the 1800’s family size did start to decrease.

In 1800 American women were bearing an average of 7.04 children; 5.21 in 1860; and 3.56 in 1900.

Speculation remains to this day as to if families were adhering to the ideals like that of Malthous, or the use of contraception and or abortion helped to decrease the population. One fact remains true in that the desire to have fewer children was becoming more popular.

Margaret Sanger, Paving the Way

Controversy over the use of contraceptives continued to flourish as the years went on. In 1914 started what would be the largest movement for the free use of contraceptives. Sanger herself was one of eleven children growing up. Knowing the hardship a family of that size endures she felt a passion to advocate for the use of birth control to increase standards of living. Sanger started a newspaper called Woman Rebel and with her first edition she started the fires of the movement.

Margaret Sanger, urged women "to look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in the eyes; to have an ideal; to speak and act in defiance of convention."(Kennedy 1970)

Sanger fought many court battles in her home state, New York, to challenge the laws that forbade the distribution of her pamphlets and material. The objective of he material was to educate families in birth control methods, but to the state of New York it was full of sexually lewd material. For a brief time she fled America, running from a federal indictment citing she was distributing obscene items through the mail with her works of the Woman Rebel. She continued her works eventually opening the first women’s clinic, which is known today as Planned Parenthood.

As she pressed on with her research and determination Sanger was finally able to see what her life’s work had accomplished. At the age of 80 Sanger had finally got a glimpse of the first approved birth control pill. It was not for five more years before it was legalized in 1965. Initially the pill was only legal for married couples; it took until 1972 to extend that right to all women. (Steinem)

It is worth noting that although Margaret Sanger’s work revolved around the legalization of birth control it is her movement that spurred liberation of women. Her works were not only monumental in placing law allowing women, to have children only if and when they choose, but opened the gates for all women to have equal rights. There is no doubt that these new freedoms helped change thoughts and stereotypes on women and sex.

Slow Yet Steady Progress

In 1965, when the Supreme Court ruled that a husband and wife should be able to control their family size it most likely spurred an angry movement by unwed



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