Birth Control

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Birth Control

The history of the Pill is a history interwoven with capitalism, exploitation, racism and classism. In that this is a historical look at oral contraception, this section will proceed in chronological order through the development, testing and present day situation of "the Pill." This historical look will also discuss the effects of capitalism, exploitation, racism and classism, with a careful look at how the effects of oral contraception were felt in vastly different ways by white women and black women.

Development of the Pill was partly facilitated by Katherine McCormic, multi-million dollar widow and friend of Margaret Sanger, who contributed over three million dollars for scientific research into the development of oral contraception (Chesler 432), but was primarily funded by pharmaceutical companies and every major international institution for population control (Petchesky 171). The first oral progestin was synthesized in 1951 by Carl Djerassi and other chemists at the University of Mexico (Chesler 432). Built on Djerassi’s work and funded greatly by McCormic, Gregory Pincus, M.C. Chang and John Rock, a Catholic pro-birth control gynecologist, collaborated to further develop the Pill and experiment with the drug on Boston patients (McLaren 240). Large-scale clinical trials in Puerto Rico and Mexico were undertaken in 1956 (McLaren 240). The dosages used in the original clinical trials on poor Puerto Rican and Haitian women are now know to be extremely dangerous (Petchesky 171). It was decided to manufacture a pill with high levels of estrogen, despite the fact that clinical literature since the 1940s showed a positive correlation between estrogen and cancer (Petchesky 171).

Enovid-10, a combination estrogen/progestin ovulation inhibitor, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960 (Reynolds 114 and McLaren 240). This oral contraceptive was built on the exploitation of women of color through their use as laboratory subjects as well as the image projected to greater society of birth control to limit further propagation of the black and brown peoples of the United Sates and of the world. Margaret Sanger’s contribution to the journal of the American Birth Control League (ABCL) makes the original intent of birth control clear. Much of the birth control movement was aimed at, as Sanger wrote in the ABCL journal, having "more children from the fit, less from the unfit" (Davis 20).

Control of black and brown populations was not limited to the United States, and was liberally extended to aggressive global population control programs. Proponents of national and international aggressive population control programs included the Ford and Rockefeller foundations as well as the United States Agency for International Development, known as US AID (Alexander 53). In international programs to aid what is (under a very broad definition of the word) termed development, " . . . there is the widespread use of the Pill, IUDs and other aggressive contraceptive devices that were either banned or were in the experimental phases in countries like the US" (Alexander 53-54). Not only were population programs targeted at limiting reproduction of women of color, but they were used to test contraceptives, and subsequently "dump" products that had had been banned in the US on developing neighbors.

America’s’ relationship to Puerto Rico during the testing phase of the Pill is possibly the greatest insult to human dignity in all of the history of birth control. US AID, the agency responsible for population programs carried out on Puerto Rico, increased its spending on birth control measures by one hundred million dollars and decreased spending on health care by that same amount (La Operacion). Helen Rodrigues, M.D. notes in La Operacion, that birth control is a right where people are given information to make a choice, population control is a program by which certain people are targeted to have no or very few children. The inseparability of capitalism, population control and birth control is exemplified by the conditions in which the Pill was developed and tested. In 1898 North American troops landed in Puerto Rico, and by 1930 corporations owned more than half of the land (La Operacion). By 1937, Puerto Rico was experiencing a 37% unemployment rate, and the many landless and jobless people were deemed excess population by the overseers in the North (La Operacion). That same year sterilization was legalized and

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