The so-called liberator of women has actually hurt them


The 1892 Criminal Code of Canada outlawed birth control, declaring it obscene and “tending to corrupt morals.” It also, however, left a clause that permitted the distribution of birth control if it was for the “public good.” The American Congress had already banned birth control information in 1873, citing the same reason. So what happened in the intervening years, between the late 19th century and the decriminalization of contraception in Canada in 1969 and approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States in 1960? A lot, really, but a good place to start is with the career of Margaret Sanger, radical feminist and founder of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Born in 1879 into a large Catholic family, the New York native developed a life-long passion to see women freed from what she perceived as the terrible and unjust burden of child-bearing, which, coupled with her advocacy of eugenics inspired by social Darwinism and the alarmist population theories of Malthus, led her to fight for the free and widespread dissemination of birth control information and products.

Although often successful in her bitter fight against traditional morality as entrenched in Western society and law, for many years Sanger was no closer to her dream of a contraceptive “magic pill” until she met medical researcher Dr. Gregory Pincus in 1951. Sanger strongly believed that Pincus had the ability to develop such a pill that would serve as a super-weapon in the feminist revolution and eugenics war and was able to persuade long-time financial supporter Katherine McCormick to fund the necessary research. With the assistance of eminent infertility specialist Dr. John Rock and the reproductive biologist Dr. Min Chueh Chang, Pincus was able to fulfill Sanger’s dream within five years by developing a hormonal pill that blocked ovulation.

During this time, many social welfare organizations were encouraging the use of various contraceptive methods as a means to combat poverty and offset a perceived coming population explosion. In 1960, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration approved the pill for use as a contraceptive and, in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that access to contraceptives was protected under the right to privacy.

The pill had become available in Canada in 1960, but could only be prescribed for therapeutic reasons. It took nine more years before contraception was officially decriminalized in Canada along with its reproductive counterpart, abortion, in 1969.

Sanger and the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada owed this victory in large part to the support of various Christian churches, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, United, Unitarian and the Salvation Army, as well as to an influential document known as the Winnipeg Statement written by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in which they appeared to approve the use of contraception. This support served to assuage the consciences of a large number of Canadians affiliated with these denominations and gave the politicians the confidence to move forward with such controversial legislation without facing religious opposition.

How It Works

Currently, there are two main types of commonly used contraceptive pills. The combined pill contains the hormones progestin and estrogen, which work to trick the ovaries into thinking they have already released an egg, thereby preventing any further ovulation. The Minipill, on the other hand, contains only progestin, which may have the effect of preventing ovulation, but most effectively works by thickening the mucus around the cervix, inhibiting the sperm from entering the uterus. In recent years, birth control patches have become available that utilize the same hormonal method of the combined pill, although they have proven themselves far less safe and have been subsequently dogged by an unusual number of lawsuits.

Should the pills fail in their primary function and the user become pregnant, which is likely over an extended period of use, the pills have a back-up function in acting as abortifacients by inhibiting the embryo from successfully implanting itself on the wall of the uterus. The emergency contraceptive pill, sometimes referred to as “the morning after pill,” is little more than the Minipill or combined pill taken at a much higher dosage in order to ensure an abortion. Many who promote the emergency contraceptive pill engage in a fascinating little prevarication by claiming that the pill is not an abortifacient, failing to mention that according to their definition, conception occurs at the moment when the embryo is implanted in the uterus, not at the moment of fertilization as is historically and commonly understood.

Widespread use

According to a report published in May by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 62 per cent of the approximately 62 million women of child-bearing age in the U.S. were using some method of contraception during the years 2006-2008, with a total of 17.3 per cent, or 10.7 million American women using the pill. It has been estimated that worldwide, there are over 100 million women currently on the pill.

To some people, these statistics are worrisome. In 2008, the American Life League sponsored the first annual Protest the Pill Day as part of its “The Pill Kills” awareness campaign. Currently, the campaign boasts 30 co-sponsors and has been “very successful,” according to project director Marie Hahnenberg. In a telephone interview with The Interim, Hahnenberg enthused, “Each year it continues to grow and each year we hear from people, especially the women, and more and more pro-lifers are taking a stand.”

The goal of the campaign, said Hahnenberg, “is to raise more awareness on how dangerous the pill is and for women to look into healthier and safer alternatives (to birth control),” such as the rhythm method. The website of The Pill Kills campaign,, lists a host of side effects that range in severity from the mildly unpleasant (like dizziness) to the potentially fatal (like heart attacks).

Hahnenberg, like many of the pill’s critics, believes the fallout of the birth control pill extends far beyond the realm of physical health. During its 50 years as a legalized drug, she said, “We can see an increase in divorce, we can see failed relationships, people being wounded with this mentality and idea, thinking that the small pill could improve their lives when, in reality, it breaks marriages apart and increases promiscuity among youth.”

The pill has not benefited women at all, she said. “We’re getting reports from women across the country, e-mails, Facebook, phone calls – women are not happy.” Hahnenberg blames this unhappiness and dissatisfaction on the “contraceptive mentality,” in which “couples feel that they don’t need to be committed because of this idea you can have relations with anyone without having ‘consequences.’”

Bitter Pill

When the pill first came out, it was heralded by women’s rights activists as an unprecedented agent of equalization. Unfettered by a disruptive pregnancy, women could now remain sexually active while getting a post-secondary education and be able to climb the ladders of power on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Indeed, to a large extent, this has occurred.

From 1970 to 1980, the number of women entering law school increased from 10 per cent to 36 per cent and in business school, from 4 per cent to 28 per cent. In Canada today, women comprise over half of post-secondary school students, an astonishing reversal over such a short period of time and unthinkable before the advent of modern contraceptive methods and the safety net of abortion. The increase of female participation in the upper tiers of corporate and political power has not been quite as dramatic, but still very marked. Sanger’s pill seems to have worked its magic.

To economist Timothy Reichert, if there is any magic at work, it is of the black kind. In the May edition of First Things magazine, he published a remarkable essay that flies utterly in the face of conventional wisdom. Using only “the language and tools of modern social science” and “straightforward economic reasoning,” he presented a compelling argument that the widespread use of contraception has led directly to a shifting of wealth and power away from women.

Whereas previously, his argument goes, men and women both participated in a common “mating market,” modern contraceptives like the pill split this market into two separate “sexual relationship” and “marriage” markets. Under this new system, women in the early years of their adult lives have the upper hand in the sex market, but once they enter the marriage market, they are greatly disadvantaged. The reason is biological. Women have a limited window of opportunity in which to bear children and those who wish to start a family must enter the marriage market and seek out a suitable mate before the window is closed by menopause. Men, on the other hand, are under no such time constraints and may remain in the sex market as long as they wish. In a society lacking strong moral norms, the inevitable result is a scarcity of marriageable men, forcing women to make bad “deals,” settling with less-than-suitable mates.

There are many negative implications to this new social order and it is women who always seem to suffer the most.

Bad marriages create a demand for easy divorce and a high divorce rate means newlyweds are entering marriage with more distrust and a lessened level of commitment. Because they cannot guarantee their husbands will always be there to provide for them, women must remain financially independent even in marriage. They are forced to keep a job, which decreases the amount of time they are able to spend with their children and their homes. When both spouses specialize in the same area of life, namely, providing an income, this in turn decreases the “comparative advantage” obtained by marriage. The bonds of the marital relationship weaken and a “sexless ennui” settles in, wherein “men and women become, quite simply, less interesting to one another.”

Reichert points out how this new marital dynamic unexpectedly has an enormous affect on the economics of limited-supply goods. In real estate, for example, the ubiquity of wealthy double-income families means that housing prices are being bid ever higher. This, in turn, adds a financial burden that reinforces the need women feel to spend more time earning money and less time raising a family.

Unsurprisingly, Reichert also argues that contraception “increases the incidence of infidelity.” However, because men are more likely to be unfaithful than women, it is women who are most often left with the broken heart and feelings of betrayal. Reichert also shows that the contraceptive lifestyle creates a demand for abortion as a “secondary insurance” against pregnancy. In this case, again, the woman is the greater loser. She is the one to face the health risks and has to bear the heavier share of post-abortion emotional trauma.

Reichert presents surveys of women taken from 1970 to 2010 that corroborate Marie Hahnenberg’s observation of unhappiness among women. According to researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, over the past 35 years, “measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”

Many have argued that the “contraception revolution” has affected the structure of society at large, but the only aspect generally considered is the widened participation of women beyond the home environment, seen as to their benefit. What Reichert’s broader vision sees, however, is a “redistribution of welfare” and power from the weak to the strong; from the old, the young, the childbearing and childrearing women, to the men, who are bound by ever-weakening ties of responsibility.

What does this mean for the future of our society? “Societies are structured around many objectives, but one of the chief reasons to be is the protection of the weak. … Contraception undermines this fundamental imperative and, in so doing, undermines the legitimacy of the social contract. When the social fabric of a society is geared to move welfare from the weak to the strong, rather than the other way around, it cannot survive in the long run.”

There are some, including many feminists, who believe that the social influence of the pill has been exaggerated; yet the evidence examined in this article would seem to indicate quite the opposite. The true nature and extent of the ‘contraceptive revolution’ has, in fact, been almost universally misjudged, and remains veiled in great ignorance to a world that has embraced it as a new way of life