The History of Birth Control Rights

In honor of International Women’s Day last Friday, we’re diving into the history of birth control. Birth control is an essential part of our overall well-being and helps people choose if and when they want to get pregnant. Birth control has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who developed condoms and spermicides from animal parts. Today, modern technology has granted us safer and more reliable contraceptive methods that are used to prevent pregnancy and much more. Birth control has health, social and economic benefits that give teens and people who can become pregnant the ability to make decisions for their own bodies and futures.

When talking about the history of birth control rights, it is important to remember that not everyone has had the same rights. There is a history of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color being forced to be sterilized or to use birth control without their consent. We want to acknowledge this history and understand that not everyone has had the same right to make decisions about their own body. Also, some people, like poorer people or those in rural areas, may not always be able to access birth control because it can be hard to get to a clinic or health care provider. Those services may not be in their community and it can sometime be difficult to get to a clinic or to take time off work. With that in mind, let’s get into the history of birth control access.

Birth Control Criminalized

In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act, which criminalized using the U.S. postal services to send and receive contraceptives or information on birth control and abortion.

Modern Birth Control Movement

Margaret Sanger popularized the term “birth control” and opened the first birth control clinic in 1916. She later founded the American Birth Control League, now known as Planned Parenthood Federation of America. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the first birth control pill was developed.

The pill became possible when researchers discovered that Mexican women had been eating a wild yam, barbasco, that contained chemical components that could be used for synthetic hormones. Yams were used to extract progestin to combine with estrogen, and helped lead to the development of the first birth control pill!

Birth Control is Legalized

Birth control became legalized in 1965 for married couples, and later legalized in 1972 for everyone to use, regardless of marital status. By 1974, most states passed laws that allowed young people to access the pill without first needing permission from their parents. This was significant because it gave young people the right to protect themselves and make healthy decisions based on their own health needs and desires.

This month, March 2024, the Opill became available. Opill is the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the US. The Opill is available online and will be on pharmacy shelves soon. 

Since the first birth control pill, attitudes toward contraceptives have dramatically changed and are associated with personal, sexual, and reproductive freedom. To learn more about the different forms of birth control available, check out our blog post about them here. You can also learn about your right as a teen in California to get FREE and CONFIDENTIAL birth control here. If you are interested in getting birth control, find a clinic near you!