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NPR Interview Discusses Development of Birth Control Pill

NPR Interview Discusses Development of Birth Control Pill

October 10, 2014 — NPR's "Shots" discusses an interview "Fresh Air's" Terry Gross conducted with Jonathan Eig, author of "The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution."

Eig explains that the effort was primarily led by activist Margaret Sanger, scientist Gregory Pincus, Catholic ob-gyn John Rock and research funder Katharine McCormick. Together, they helped develop oral contraceptives during the 1950s, when contraceptives were still illegal in several states, Eig notes.

According to Eig, the pill gained widespread popularity and approval through "one of the great bluffs in scientific history." Pincus and Rock had only tested the pill on about 60 women for between six months and one year when Pincus announced at a conference that they had successfully developed the pill. While he knew "that he [had] the science," he was "not sure that [it was] really ready," Eig explains.

The announcement generated an "enormous demand" for the pill, which led to drugmaker G.D. Searle agreeing to manufacture the oral contraceptives and apply for FDA approval, Eig says.

Pincus and Searle then devised "yet another sneaky but brilliant idea," to ask FDA to approve the pill for menstrual disorders instead of "as birth control because that [would] raise a whole bunch of other issues." FDA approved the drug with a warning label that said, "'This pill will likely prevent pregnancy,'" which Eig argues was "the greatest advertisement they could ever have [created] -- because this is what women want" ("Shots," NPR, 10/7).