The Truth About the Pil

September 16, 2013 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, United States, News

The Truth About the Pill
A new book argues that hormonal birth control is sexist and dangerous. Don’t believe it.
By Lindsay Beyerstein

Years before she founded Planned Parenthood, pioneering feminist Margaret Sanger dreamed of a “magic pill” that would put women in charge of their own fertility. As a visiting nurse in New York City’s tenements, Sanger saw women struggling with unwanted pregnancies, botched abortions, and more children than they could take care of, thanks to husbands who wouldn’t cooperate on birth control. A woman who relies on a man for birth control, Sanger wrote in 1920, is “exploited, driven and enslaved to his desires.” In the early 1950s, Sanger joined forces with philanthropist Katharine McCormick to coordinate the research program that would drag that magic pill into existence.

Sanger lived to see the 1960 launch of Enovid, the first oral contraceptive pill, and its success vindicated many of her hopes for women’s liberation. The pill ushered in a new era of educational and professional attainment for women. As a discreet, highly effective, and fully female-controlled form of birth control, the pill allowed women to plan their families, space their births, and even delay childbearing long enough to establish themselves in careers.

In her new book Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, Holly Grigg-Spall offers what she calls a “feminist critique” of hormonal contraception. She argues that the so-called liberating force of the pill has been illusory. She claims that the pill keeps women in the thrall of patriarchal capitalism and destroys their health in the process. The addiction allusion in the title is not a metaphor-Grigg-Spall is convinced that the pill is an addictive drug.

It would be tempting to dismiss the author as an isolated crank, but she is part of a disturbing effort to reduce women to their biological functions in the name of feminism.

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