UU Women's Connection

The Pill at 50 Years

"The pill," as it came to be called, celebrates its 50th anniversary this merry month of May [2010]. It was approved by the Food and Drug administration in 1960 when I was a sophomore in high school. There was barely a buzz about it for me. I was too busy trying to pass Geometry class, make sure my crinolines were starched to leg scratching perfection and buying my ticket to wear "peggers" one Friday a month at school.

I wasn't allowed to think about sex much less indulge. God forbid, we had just emerged from the 50s and it just wasn't done. The best contraceptive advice available for those who did "it" was, "Use aspirin." That is, "hold an aspirin between your knees."

In four years when I was a sophomore in college, things shifted. I finally noticed there was the sexual revolution and the pill was no longer aspirin, but a concoction of hormones that miraculously prevented pregnancy if you were brazen enough to do "it." Still it wasn't available for unmarried women. There were an alarming number of illegal abortions and women disappearing to shame-filled maternity homes or to homes of little known relatives out East.

In 1964, emboldened by a fierce new love, heat of hormones and the freedom of being on my own in New York City, I tried to get a prescription. Wasn't this wise life planning and protecting myself? "Are you sure you are married?" he asked after the exam. I held my ground and insisted that I was, but never used that prescription because two pharmacists refused me. Can they do that?

Now what am I hearing? Many poor women don't have access to contraceptives at this 50th Anniversary. Some groups are working here and even in foreign countries to stir up the same issues about women having control of their reproductive lives. Can women be satisfied with celibacy as a substitute for spacing pregnancies, planning our lives, having careers and family both? How far from the aspirin, as contraceptive, have we moved?

The work of Planned Parenthood is as important in 2010 as it was in the 50s. How can affordable contraception that enables women to have ultimate control of their bodies and lives be guaranteed?