May 9th, 2010
As reported by Mother’s other little helper: The Pill (Elaine Tyler May, Washington Post 5/09/10), today is the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s announcement that it would approve the birth control pill (so influential in American culture that it is referred to, Madonna-like, as “The Pill”).“Oh Daddy don’t you worry none ‘cause Mama’s got the pill.” – The Pill, by Loretta Lynn
The pill is 50 years old today.
Ironic, since it’s Mother’s Day.
Or maybe it’s not ironic at all,
Since it was American mothers who for it did call.
Before the pill became ascendant,
Wives and mothers were dependent
On less convenient and effective means of birth control
And their husbands’ self control.
That meant that married women were often expecting
And spent more of their time, their husbands’ advances deflecting.
The pill gave wives power, the number and timing of children to plan,
And didn’t require cooperation from the man.
The average number of births per woman dropped by half
(Due in large part to the pill’s behalf).
After the pill’s widespread deployment,
Many more women were able to seek paid employment.
I refer to “wives” and “moms” because when it was first introduced,
The birth control pill was not for single women produced.
(That didn’t happen until after the Sexual Revolution,
To which the pill made a big contribution.)
6.5 million women were using the pill by 1964,
And in 1965, I suspect my Mom became one more.
I don’t think she used it before then,
But after three kids in five years, I think she started then.
I was born nine months after my parents were married,
And my brother 18 months later (talk about harried).
There was a three year gap between numbers two and three,
Since Mom already had her hands full with my brother and me.
Three kids under five is even more of a handful, it can’t be denied
(No coincidence that our lack of more siblings with the pill’s popularization did coincide).
I always suspected Sis was unplanned,
But of course never asked, so I don’t know first hand.
Eventually, like many others,
My Mom joined the tens of millions of working mothers.
She had been a teacher, and that’s to what she returned,
More for the satisfaction than for the small salary she earned.
Ironically, it’s this impact that social reactionaries want to undo
(VA Governor McDonnell, I’m talking about you).
They want to go back to pre-birth control ways
When women were barefoot and pregnant (ah, those were the days).
I’m not saying that there aren’t advantages to a stay-at-home mother
(Having Mom home when we were young was good for me, my sister, and brother).
But the pill and other social changes gave families a choice,
Which is something in which you’d think conservatives would rejoice.
It’s strange that so-called conservatives who decry government interference
Want to return to the days before reproductive freedom made its appearance.
If you want to keep government off people’s back, I would assume
That you’d also support keeping it out of the womb.
Alas, that’s not the case
For those who seek the progress of the last 50 years to erase.
Things may not be perfect, but they are a lot better
Than if the Right gets the chance women’s rights to re-fetter.
The fight for reproductive freedom started long before 50 years ago
(For more on that, watch the video below).
It didn’t end then and it’s not over yet,
But the pill was a big step. (Thanks, Margaret.)
Here’s Rachel’s 5/07/10 report “Birth Control of a Nation” (kudos for that title, which I hereby pay homage to) about the pill’s 50th birthday.
Here’s a CBS report on the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill.
Here’s a scene from one of the early reproductive rights movement protests.
Sorry, wrong video. That was the final scene from D.W. Griffith’s ground-breaking film about the American Civil War (another favorite McDonnell topic—maybe it’s the good old ante-bellum South that he and others want to take us back to), Birth of a Nation, inspiration for Rachel’s (and my) title. Here’s a music video (of my own humble creation) with clips from Planned Parenthood about the reproductive rights movement and its founder Margaret Sanger (also check out this movie about Sanger, who also “conceived” of the birth control pill way back in 1912 and later organized research to help develop it). The video is accompanied by our theme music, country legend Loretta Lynn’s The Pill, a song that like the birth control pill itself was very controversial (it was banned from the radio for many years). Also check out folk legend Pete Seeger’s song of the same title.
PS: Technically, I suppose it’s more accurate to say that the birth control pill was “born” on the day of its actual approval (June 23, 1960), rather than the 50th anniversary today of the FDA’s advance approval announcement (more akin to a pregnancy announcement), but I’m following the Post article’s lead in making today the day of commemoration (since today is Mother’s Day), given the article’s (and my own) references to motherhood. But regardless of which birthday one uses, it wasn’t an easy birth and early childhood. In spite of the FDA approval in 1960, opponents to the social change that the pill threatened were successful in passing state laws to restrict its use, even for married women. These laws were declared unconstitutional in 1965 by the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut. After that, the pill was available nationwide to married women, but some states continued to restrict its availability for single women. Those restrictions were finally declared unconstitutional in 1972 by Eisenstadt v. Baird. So, it’s been a long road of steady change with multiple milestones along the way.