1960 1st contraceptive pill is made available for purchase in the U.S.

June 23, 2021

The push for reproductive rights has a long and difficult history. With the feminist movement came a push for bodily autonomy. Traditionally in the 1950s, women were not allowed to be prescribed birth control methods in the United States of America due to the nation’s Anti-obscenity laws through the early 20th century. These laws created desperation for women who wanted to be able to control their reproduction—leading to several women doing unreliable and often unsafe methods of managing their reproductive system.

The need for a contraceptive pill became a large deal that caught the eye of G.D. Searle. An obstetrics nurse who saw the need for one first at her job. She approached Gregory Pincus in 1950 to develop a pill for birth control. The two women, along with others such as Katharine McCormick, developed the birth control pill Enovid. Katharine’s inheritance and Planned Parenthood Federation Of America funded the project.

Development and testing took a long time. The pill was made up of synthetic estrogen and progestin, with the synthetic versions of the needed hormones created in 1951 and 1953. The synthetic hormones that were used to create the pill were developed outside of the project and without the intention of being used in a hormonal birth control pill. Drug trials for Enovid took place in the late 1950s. In 1957 Enovid was being used as a hormonal pill to handle disorders such as irregular periods as approved by the FDA.

Eventually, Enovid was approved for official birth control use by the FDA. The pill was first marketed and released as an official form of birth control on June 23rd, 1960. It was a significant victory for women across the United States. Despite the pill’s enormous cost, as many as 400,000 women contacted their doctors about receiving the pill, resulting in a very lucrative outcome for the company. Enovid cost $10/month in 1960. Inflation puts that number at approx. $91/month in 2021 dollars. The price would go down to only $3.50-$4 a month by the end of February 1960.

Despite the victory of having an official form of birth control, the pill had many flaws. Enovid was initially only allowed to be prescribed to married women. The pill also came with unwanted side effects of nausea and weight gain. Over time research into hormonal medicine and birth control expanded to be better than it once was. Thanks to societal changes, Enovid and similar forms of birth control are now prescribed regardless of a woman’s relationship status. Despite these advancements, the technology and attitude about birth control still need improvement and remain controversial.