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Developments in Birth Control in America

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The movement of birth control in America stemmed off of the feminist movement’s agenda to reach equality for the sexes. While the feminist movement pushed for increasing overall gender equality, they pursued women’s suffrage, fair opportunities in education and working, equality for wives that were treated like property, and reproductive rights that would lead to the birth control movement being developed during the first couple decades of the twentieth century. While advocating birth control was not the only concern for the feminists, the two causes were often composed of the same supporters so that developments in birth control could potentially affect both movements. 

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Advances in birth control created several key contributions to the overall feminist agenda, from the first wave to even present-day America, including the right of women to choose how many children she would bear, women being able to aim their futures outside the margins of having children, and effectively eliminated the importance of men cooperation for birth control to be effective. The first reason advances in birth control helped facilitate the feminist movement, is because most couples use birth control to plan out when or how many pregnancies the women would go through. Before Americans had access to effective birth control options, women could have as many pregnancies as their bodies allowed, often leading to women staying home with the children for a majority of their lives and missing many potential educational or work opportunities. 

The more pregnancies a woman would endure, the higher the risk of childbirth and pregnancy complications would be. Because effective birth control methods were not available, couples before the twentieth century relied on options such as the diaphragm, condoms made by animal skin, and the withdrawal technique in order to decrease the risks or to simply lower how many children a woman had. These techniques were not always one hundred percent effective, as the total fertility rate (TFR), or the total number of children a woman would have, was seven kids during the 1800s in America. Following the opening of the first birth control clinic by Margaret Sanger on 16 October 1915, the clinic worked towards spreading available birth control resources to the public. As birth control activists spread knowledge and resources to prevent pregnancies, the FTR eventually lowered to a total of four children per woman during the beginning of the twentieth century in America. This clinic was shut down by the police almost ten days later, as it would violate the Comstock national censorship of birth control in America, but Sanger persisted through court to legalize her practices. Through years of activism, Sanger eventually was able to open the first legal permanent birth control in 1923. She received legal protection for her clinic through Judge Crane, as he affirmed the legality of the clinic by recognizing it would be helping women through diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy complications that a birth control clinic would have resources to aid. The birth control movement was successful in spreading awareness and support of new methods, even though the only one hundred percent effective method was abstinence. Soon after these developments in birth control, such as the end of the Comstock federal ban on birth control in 1938, women had a wider accessibility to local birth control clinics, condoms now made of latex, and new spermicides. This improvement in the birth control movement helped gender equality by giving women more choices in if they could prevent pregnancies while being sexually active, as there was no longer a federal ban on women intending to limit their pregnancies and they had more options than to remain abstinent. 

Next, advancements in birth control gave women the opportunity to pursue education and full-time careers while being mothers as they could now control how many children they had. These innovations led to the TFR to be around two during the Great Depression in America as families faced economic turmoil and could not afford to feed eleven children. While these new technologies allowed women to have an average of two children, women could now offer greater help to the family financial situation by getting a full-time career or reduce the possibilities of unwanted pregnancies. Since the first oral contraceptive was approved by the FDA in the 1960s, about one-third of all wage gains women have earned are correlated directly to their usage of the pill. The birth control pill also opened opportunities in education, as the college dropout rate in women who had access to the pill was thirty-five percent less than women who did not have access to the pill. Accessibility had also led to an increase of more than two percent of women graduating college. The birth control pill was a huge success for both the birth control movement and the feminist movement, as it was a highly safe and effective contraceptive while also allowing women to increase their presences in college and work settings. Allowing women to choose if or when they will have children effectively allowed them to pursue higher education, settle full-time jobs and still have children. Families can also factor financial situations into having children, which was one of Sanger’s original concerns. As she was born the sixth out of eleven children to Irish Catholic immigrants, she understood that a woman who didn’t have access to birth control had few opportunities engage in sexual activity and have a life outside of raising children. The last way advances in birth control played a role in the feminist movement was by taking men out of the responsibility of preventing pregnancy. 

Before advances in the birth control movement, men took an essential role in preventing pregnancy. Methods such as the male withdrawal depended on the male partner to prevent the pregnancy, even with a twenty percent fail rate. Some physicians even advised against this method as it could cause impotence or blindness, and while these side effects have been disproved by modern science, men of the later nineteenth century often felt the placebo effect and complained heavily afterward or changed their minds last minute resulting in no birth control action taking place. Even with the use of condoms, the man had to wear it properly in order to reap the birth control effect. As husbands cried it was an act of “emasculation” for a man to wear condoms, and even the modern era of ‘stealthing’, or removing the condom during sex without partners consent, showed that male cooperation in preventing pregnancy was not always effective. By creating the oral contraceptive, copper IUD around the 1960s, and even the contraceptive implant that was introduced to the American market in 1993, women are facing peak feminism by having over ninety-nine percent effective methods of birth control available that require minimal to no male cooperation or acknowledgment. Women can now control their reproductive systems without a man’s input or laws in the way of preventing pregnancy. In conclusion, while the feminist movement did not create birth control, the progress of the birth control movement had deep effects in achieving the feminist’s main goal: gender equality.

 Birth control was able to effectively allow women who wanted to have children control the size of their growing family, which gave women separate opportunities outside of being a mother like men had. These opportunities transformed into the increasing presence of women in the workforce and furthering their education, as they could now project their future outside of raising a family, as men did. 

Finally, birth control played a key role in reaching gender equality by limiting the need of a man’s cooperation for reproduction, as women no longer had to rely on men to make the birth control methods effective. Women could now control their chances of getting pregnant based on her own concerns instead of having to depend on their partner.

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