The American Birth Control Movement

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Humans have been practicing forms of contraception or birth control since ancient times. Some of the earliest records of this are in Ancient Egypt, 1850 BC, where they used a mixture of honey, acacia leaves and lint to block sperm in the vagina. Traditional forms of contraception have varied greatly throughout human history, but can be defined as ‘the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.’ Modern day contraceptive methods include hormonal methods (the pill, patch, Nuvaring), barrier methods (condoms & diaphragms), IUD’s (copper & hormonal inserts), natural methods (abstinence & withdrawal), emergency contraception (plan B pill) and abortion..

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The American birth control movement specifically began in 1914, and intended to make contraception more accessible to the American people through education and legalization. The legalization of birth control and abortion in the US has been has been extremely controversial, bringing to light many heavily weighted moral questions. Some of these questions being, ‘what is the place of women in society? Does life begin at conception? Is access to birth control a human right?’ These questions are still up for debate today, with religion, culture and social status contributing to peoples differing opinions and arguments.

Medical advancements such as the hormonal birth control pill in the 50’s & 60’s began to change the role of women in American society, with many more women able to attend and graduate college. Linda Gordon described birth control as a major factor in the development of women’s sexuality in her book The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control and Politics in America. She also expressed, contraception promised the final elimination of women’s only significant biological disadvantage. (The capacity to reproduce is not a disadvantage, but lack of control over it is.) This, to me, is a profound idea. That women began to make the ascent from second class citizen to first class citizen, all because they gained the ability to control when or if they became pregnant.

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