Just the (Birth Control) Facts, Ma’am

A friend of mine recently sent me an article on the history of birth control and asked for my thoughts. The first half seemed pretty basic, factual, and straight-forward… Then, I came to the part that probably motivated her to send it to me.

Under the heading, “Clinical Trials,” the author wrote:

“By 1954, Pincus—working together with John Rock—was ready to test his contraceptive. He did so successfully in Massachusetts, then they moved on to larger trials in Puerto Rico, which were also highly successful.”

Highly successful? The only thing successful about these trials is that they were able to snooker the FDA into approving the hormonal birth control, but the results of the trials were dubious at best.

The women in Puerto Rico were not informed they were participating in a trial. Five young women died during the trial. All were buried without autopsies.

After the FDA had already approved the drug, a subcommittee led by Sen. Hubert Humphrey found that the trial consisted of only 132 women who had remained on The Pill for 12 consecutive months. Morton Mintz of the Washington Post reported this as a scientific scandal.

When Dr. Pincus’ notes and documentation from the trial were moved to the Library of Congress, Barbara Seaman, a prominent feminist author, wrote that the notes revealed a disturbing habit of deceitfulness and shoddy practices from the Pincus Lab. It rose to such a level that she was surprised he hadn’t burned the evidence.

Photo Credit: Anna Shvets

An Anticlimactic Conclusion

I don’t know how many people go to ThoughtCo. to learn about the history of birth control. So, I don’t allow it to affect my blood pressure when I read things like that, but I have to admit I did get a little bit excited when I saw that the author actually addressed the ‘serious side effects’ of The Pill.

The excitement was short-lived as the conclusion kind of turned to mush. In case you didn’t click on the link above, here’s how the article ends:

“By the late 1960s, serious side effects were beginning to come to light. Ultimately, Pincus’ original formula was taken off the market in the late 1980s and replaced with a less potent version that decreased some of the known health risks.”

That’s the end. Really.

The author established that The Pill was linked to serious side effects. I’m grateful for that, but then that thing about the newer formulations “that decreased some of the known health risks.”

What does that even mean? Did it decrease some side effects, but not others? How serious are the ones that remain? The time to be vague is not when you start talking about serious side effects. However, I have to admit I was impressed that the author didn’t attempt to squeeze in any iteration of the word ‘safe’ into the description of the newer Pills.

But seriously, can we discuss those side effects now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *