Golden anniversary of the pill

Still, many women don’t have access

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the approval of the birth control pill by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960. As even golden anniversaries go, this is a big one. The pill, which was first manufactured in Illinois by G.D. Searle and Company, literally changed everything for women. This anniversary should both stir memories of changes big and small and spark action to ensure that every woman who wishes to do so benefits from the pill and other forms of birth control.

“The pill,” as it quickly came to be known, was more than just a pill — it was a pathway for women to seek higher education, enter the work force and to plan the timing and spacing of their children. Moreover, in the past 50 years with the help of the pill, the percentage of women who died as a result of pregnancy dropped by half. During that same period, there was a threefold decline in infant deaths. The percentage of unplanned pregnancies also declined, despite the fact that too many still occur. And as access to contraception has increased, the rate of abortion has decreased.

Here in Springfield, this is particularly evident from the women we see. For decades, the doctors and nurses at the Planned Parenthood health center in Springfield have been offering trusted and reliable information to women, so they can pick a form of birth control that meets their particular needs. Nationwide, one in four women has sought health care from Planned Parenthood at least once in her life.

My Planned Parenthood colleagues and I all know many women who are successfully balancing both a family and a satisfying career, and this fact is likely attributable to their ability to decide the right time to have children. It would be easy for someone who did not witness the changes experienced by American women and families in the decades following the approval of the pill to take for granted that women are now able to have both families and careers.

But as we celebrate the pill’s golden anniversary, we must remember that many women in the U.S. still do not have access to affordable, effective birth control. In fact, the work of Planned Parenthood of Illinois and other affiliates across the country remains just as critical now as it was in the 1950s, when Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, determinedly sought the creation of an effective form of oral contraception that women everywhere could use to plan their families on their own terms.

In America in 2010, half of all pregnancies are still unplanned, and the rate is highest among teens. Ensuring affordable contraception is one of the most crucial investments we can make for women, so they can realize their hopes for themselves and their families when it comes to family life, career, education and so much more.

It is essential that affordable contraception finally be available to every woman in Illinois, regardless of what kind of insurance she has or her ability to pay. Fortunately, the recently passed federal health care reform law allows us to accomplish this, so long as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services covers quality contraception as part of the law’s expansion of preventive care.

For those like my mother who remember what it was like before the pill was approved, this is an anniversary that inspires rededication to a simple goal — helping women plan their family lives. Our daughters, sisters, coworkers and friends need us to not simply be satisfied with the progress we have made over the past 50 years. They need us to engage them in the effort to bring affordable contraception to all women — so that they, in turn, can help make the 100th anniversary of the pill even more momentous.

To become involved with Planned Parenthood of Illinois, please visit

Carole Brite is interim CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. She served as treasurer on the Planned Parenthood of Illinois board of directors for 10 years before joining PPIL as a full-time staff member in 2009.

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