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April 23rd, 2010
02:00 PM ET

'The pill' turns 50: Changed women socially, medically

(CNN) – Fifty years ago, a reproductive revolution began when the FDA patented "the pill." The contraceptive has spawned debates about morality, its social effects and its impact on women's health.

It certainly has influenced American history, but by how much? This week's Time magazine cover story about the pill's 50th anniversary examines that question.

Time's executive editor Nancy Gibbs wrote the article and she joined us on Friday's American Morning, along with our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Filed under: Health • Women's Rights
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. L. P. Leung

    I was most excited to pick up a copy of the May 3, 2010 TIME simply for the title article "THE PILL." The discovery of the oral birth control pill was perhaps a "world-changing" event of unmatched importance in human health. I can think of no other medical discovery that affects and perhaps benefits so many.

    To my surprise, however, the one person most responsible for the discovery of the PILL was not even mentioned in the article. Is it the researchers' oversight? Or is there a reason why a Chinese American Scientist was not given the credit on purpose by TIME? Is the question of journalistic integrity or political correctness on the line?

    All the names mentioned in the article, Dr. Pincus, Sanger, McComick and Dr. Rock has something to do with the PILL, but the one person who did all the successful research and was only credited with the co-inventor title of the PILL was Dr. Min-Chueh (M.C.) Chang, the first principal scientist of the renowned Worcester Foundation.

    Dr. Chang received 6 Nobel nominations and was considered the "Father of In-vitro fertilization". The first in-vitro fertilization performed by Pincus was not duplicated even by Pincus himself. It took Dr.Chang's scientific genius to discover the processes needed to make in-vitro fertilization possible.

    Dr. Chang's 40+ year career with Worcester Foundation covered the full spectrum of human reproduction, from birth control to artificial insemination. And his name is not important enough for the TIME article on the PILL? Answer please.

    L. P. Leung, Project Director (volunteer)
    Portraits of Pride II, a book series project of
    The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

    Note: The Portraits of Pride II will be published in the fall, Dr. Chang's Portrait is but one of them, others include the inventors of Prozac, Epogen, magnetic core memory, pioneer in microsurgery, and many others world changing discoveries like the PILL.

    April 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  2. Allan Schwarb

    When America’s power grid is interrupted for months, contraception and abortion are unavailable and you discover that you’re pregnant, will you welcome her into your heart and home?

    April 29, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  3. Deborah

    And no my kids are not in foster care. The three eldest, 2 sons, 1 daughter, took on the responsibility after they were able to take care of the younger children so I could get a job, go to school and be able to take care care of everyone.

    April 28, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  4. Deborah

    I had a husband who told me when I could and could not go pee. I got beaten to the ground when I didn't follow his rules. He beat me the worst when he found my pills. He would go to the pharmacies in town and make sure I didn't get any RX filled. His girlfriend (yes, girlfriend) was a nurse at the local health clinic, which is how he found out about me having the pill to begin with. Approximately one child a year for almost 15 years. After 12 I just couldn't do it anymore. and found a doctor that was willing to tie my tubes without my husbands consent. Most doctors required my husbands consent. Husband is dead, thank God by natural causes. Greatest day of my life. Children are grown. I am 45 and trying to have what is left of a life. Sadly, my children are not a big part of that life. I had so many that I just didn't have time to develop a relationship with each one. They knew they were not wanted upon conception and did not get a lot of the necessities of life (food, water, sanitation) much of the time. They certainly didn't get the attention, love, education and time they deserved. They don't blame me, they know I tried and did try. But 12 was just too many for one person to take care of with no help. Drinking, smoking, staring at the TV and beating me, I do not count as help. His mother, who sat on the sofa and smoked all day lived with us. It was her job to keep tabs on me and report back and she did so well. She is still living but NOT in my house! Social services hauled her off to a nursing home after the funeral. Hah! At least I got that bit of vegence.

    I wish I would have met a kinder man, had a few children that were loved and tended to and had the time to get to know who they were. I wish the pill had not been ripped from my grasp.

    April 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  5. Donna

    Stephen, you need to keep your half-baked and archaic generalizations to yourself. What rubbish! From my 60+ years of living, I see plenty of women who love having children. I also see plenty of unwanted children with mothers on welfare. So, just because a few women choose not to procreate, the population won't me. You sound a bit bitter...could it be you can't find a woman that will listen to your condescending nonsense?

    April 27, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  6. Valerie

    A LOT of angry women here. You know, all the men of the world and the Catholic Church aren't out to "get" all of you, so get over yourselves...this is coming from a WOMAN, by the way!

    In my humble opinion, society as a whole has gotten much WORSE, and women aren're really any better off, considering MOST women are jealous and vindictive against EACH OTHER!

    I LOVE and respect my husband, and I appreciate the gender differences and men in general. The woman is the nurturer, the "heart" of the family, so sad many women do not see this "power" and embrace it....oh! How much better this world could be!

    April 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  7. Lilith

    Stephen – 60 yrs of life has given you eyes of a convoluted past in which you "thought" things were good because they were only good for you – not women. It's a past that modern women do not want. Heck, women didn't want it back then. Women's bodies aren't clown cars to produce child after child after child until they die. Too bad if you don't like it. It's not your body or your choice. My great grandmother had 17 children she couldn't afford nor care for. She was a slave to her husband and her body. Give the choice of that or the media and/or movement, I'll take being a slave to the media / movement any ol' day. Life isn't all about you either, Stephen. Keep your outdated opinions out of the modern day era. Your time has come and gone. You have no say here over women's bodies. Dinosaurs are extinct.

    April 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  8. JB

    I don't know how to celebrate, May be I will hang out with my wife, oh wait she was never born, some friends, oh wait they were not born either. Hey baby boomers, you decided to have the car, the house, the flat screen TVs, but no kids, how is that for security? Who is going to take care of you when you have Alzheimer’s? Thanks for the pill and abortion for which I exist in an empty Gen X.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Tad

    @DavePcola: What the heck does that have to do with this article? Your comment is completely off course and has no place here. Go find some political rant and rave site for that crap. This is about overcoming contraceptive repression, not bashing any political affiliation. Take it somewhere else.

    April 27, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  10. Chuck

    On Immigration, People should think things through. If we are not allowed to ask leagle status, all our previous immigration laws will be moot and any new law will be a waste of time. This is very dangerous. Its not about race, its about the law. When did being a citezen/resident of the US sease to become a privilege and become a right? This whole thing is tantamount to open boarders. I hope more people will think through the consequences once we are no longer a country of laws.

    April 27, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  11. Stephen

    OK, I'll say it. Ladies–life is not all about you. What would the world be like if men thought of themselves first? Women must have children–because men cannot. And Men must and do perform almost ALL of the dangerous, unpleasant jobs. That is because YOU WILL NOT. Now we have reached the point where women even refuse to have children. OH, you don't tie your tubes and commit to a childless life. Instead, you take a pill and bide your time waiting for the perfect man, or the perfect situation–a situation that never comes. At mid-life you relent and with reluctance listen to your biological clock and start a family. You are never happy at any stage of your life. It is my observation, taken from 60 years of living, that the modern liberated woman is anything but liberated. She is a slave to the expectations given her by a media and a movement.

    April 27, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  12. Jeff

    Given the choice of a pill making someone crazy decades later, or getting pregnant with 5 kids and going crazy 10 years later, well, take the pill.

    April 27, 2010 at 3:43 am |
  13. April

    The pill is a great concept but it was about money not liberating women...if the medical industry at the time cared more about womens right to breathe over dollars, women would have been warned it could (and did) kill them. Women died from taking birthcontrol LAST YEAR (YAZ).

    They knew it killed women and fed it to them in the USA and when the deaths in America were haulted they sent the bad batches to Canada...and third world nations....where more women died.

    How about we "celeberate" when its safe enough no one dies from it.

    April 26, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  14. Blaine

    Throughout history, religious conservations have fought tooth and nail to keep women in their 'place'. Women can only ever have complete freedom if they have control over their own reproduction. Sadly, one of these freedoms is the freedom from domination by males. It is as simple as that. I am a father of young daughter who is a recent college graduate and I am glad she has access to the pill. Unfortunately this is often viewed as a gender issue, but should be viewed as a basic human right

    April 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  15. Blaine

    Throughout history, religious conservations have fought tooth and nail to keep women in their 'place'. Women can only ever have complete freedom if they have control over their own reproduction. Sadly, one of these freedoms is the freedom from domination by males. It is as simple as that. I am a father of young daughter who is a recent college graduate and I am glad she has access to the pill. Unfortunately this is often viewed as a gender issue, but should be viewed as a basic human right.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  16. Zoe

    Happy birthday to The Pill, whose effects in my own life couldn't be stated enough. As a young woman with hormonal irregularities, the pill helped give my health back. I suffered from a massively irregular period from the beginning, which caused everything from anemia to severe physical pains and massive blood loss. On the pill, I now have an actual regular cycle, greatly reduced physical pain/symptoms, and much healthier rates of blood loss. The pill has made a very positive difference in my life, and I couldn't be more grateful for it. It has many uses for women besides just birth control, and has given several of us hope. I don't regret taking the pill for an instant and can only give it praise for the huge improvement it's made in my life. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

    April 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  17. Stephen

    The pill is a ticking time bomb. We don't know what damage it may be doing to women, but I have made observations watching those around me– with an open mind. I have noticed a very high correlation between long-term (fifteen years or more) use of the pill and mental illness associated with menopause. Women who have been stable all their lives (taking the pill) suddenly become irrational, emotional, and depressed when they quit taking the pill at menopause. I have also noticed a complete lack of these symptoms in women who never took the pill. I know there are those that would argue that even if there are hidden emotional prices to be paid by addicting a woman's hormonal system to induced hormonal fluctuations, the benefits are worth the cost. My observation is that the pill permanently damages women–and the damage is severe, permanent, and irreversible. MAY GOD HELP US.

    April 26, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. Marg

    The pill changed the lives of women. Now they didn't have to get pregnant (like my poor aunt who had 12 or 13 kids). Now we could have plans for our lives, have higher education, have a career, etc., etc., Have time to get a home together. Have time to enjoy married life. Help our husbands monetarily.

    And then when old enough and mature enough to have children who would be cherished not just endured. Good for all of us

    .I thank God for the pill and how my life was so much different than the females who went before me.


    April 25, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  19. Fuyuko

    The pill has helped a lot of women prevent pregnacy but it is not perfect. It caused me a lot of health problems which has affected me even after I stopped taking it. So while it is good to celebrate, at the same time, it is important to continue to investigate alternatives which might be healthier and safer..

    April 25, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  20. Smith in Oregon

    One of the greatest Victory's over the Pope and Christianity in modern history, ranking near the Victory of Women having the Right to Vote which was yet another devastating blow against the Pope and Christianity at that time.

    More victory's over the Pope and Christianity have followed however Women given the right to not simply breed like rabbits nor be treated simply like breeders was one of the greatest Victory's over the Pope and Christianity in modern history, kudos to those brave American people some 50 years ago for making that part of modern history today.

    April 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  21. Melissa Huston

    How about someone doing a study comparing the breast cancer rates before and after the pill was invented!!!

    April 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  22. Machetero

    Large-scale human clinical trials of the pill begin, to gain approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Puerto Rico is chosen as the location because it provides a large pool of poor, uneducated women who can be easily monitored and because they had fewer legal protections against some of the dangers of new drug trials. The local doctor in charge of the study warns that the pill causes "too many side reactions to be generally acceptable." However, her findings are dismissed and no one investigates what causes the side effects, nor do they investigate the cause of death for three women who die during the trials. Happy Anniversary!

    April 24, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  23. SUSIEQ

    No one interviewed me and i was one of the first to use the pill..
    Dr. Palitz of Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx used older teens such as myself (I was 18 at the time ) to use very high doses of Enovid to combat severe acne. It did wonders for me and he wrote it up tn the AMA Journal...It save my social life but not sure what it did to me hormonally.
    I didn't get pregnant (I was married, thankyou) until I was married 16 years. Also diagnosed with Stein-Leventhal disease.. Dr. Palitz died at age 54 from what I was told...

    April 24, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  24. DavePcola

    The Arizona Immigration bill is just another steep in the GOP agenda to turn The United States Of America into a Police State. The GOP and their TEAbaggie Storm Troopers, have a total disregard and distain for the Constitution, and democracy. The GOP and TEAbaggies agenda is to control every aspect of AMERICANS personal and public life. The GOP agenda is to control your, Religion, Politics, Speech, Reproduction Health, and Sexuality. Religion the GOP/TEAbaggies want to inflict their version of Christianity on AMERICANS, by require ring their version of prayer in every public/privet school, teaching their version of religion and history every public/privet schools and their prayer at every type of public/privet event, by controlling the Religion they can control every aspect of people’s lives. Politics, the GOP/TEAbaggies want to inflict their agenda on AMERICANS, with propaganda via FOX/ NEWS Corp., Restricting voting rights, Criminalizing political activities, Controlling the Voting process (the 2000 Florida vote and Jeb Bush), Restricting access to the Courts, Restricting Voter registration, Infiltrating and sabotaging other Political Party’s Primary’s (so called Open Primary’s), Speech the GOP/TEAbaggies have a long history of restricting free speech and criticism of their views, inflicting their version of history. The GOP/TEAbaggies, want to control reproductive choices, by inflicting their so called religion on AMERICANS, by outlawing abortion by choice, to start, then eliminate all forms of birth control. Sexuality, the GOP/TEAbaggies want to control, the gender, race, religion, and politics, of your sexual partner, the person you love, the person you marry, by inflicting their religion on you, criminalizing your choice, legislating the Religious Doctrine into law. The GOP/TEAbaggies are intent on inflicting their agenda on America, by overthrowing the Government of the United States of America and establishing their version of a Christen Republic, a religion, race, based police state like Iran’s.

    April 24, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  25. Smith in Oregon

    For the Medical Industry to successfully place an effective oral form of Birth Control some 50 years ago was a huge victory over the extremely narrow minded Christian leaders who have fought against women's reproductive rights for many hundreds of years.

    Very few living today realize how difficult it was for the Medical Community to begin administering pain killers to American women during child birth as Christian leaders at that time loudly and widely condemned it, stating 'their crys and pain brought joy and happiness to their god'. Thankfully that sick and twisted logic has largely been swept aside along with such horrific selfish men.

    April 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |