Friday, May 21, 2010

50 years of "the pill"

The Irish Times Weekend Review, published on Saturday, 1 May, ‘celebrates’ the fiftieth anniversary of the contraceptive pill under the header ‘Fifty years of The Pill’. Kathy Sheridan, in her related article, states ‘[The Pill] changed the world. Or did it? It was a panacea. Or was it a poison?’ How right she is in suggesting that it is a poison. She goes on to say that:
‘The pill is now used by some 100 million women around the world and has a clean bill of health, yet questions still hang over it.’
Indeed they do. She writes:
‘The pill was a toddler in 1963, when the National Maternity Hospital [in Dublin] opened a “marriage guidance clinic” offering advice only on the rhythm method, while pharmaceutical companies were introducing the pill to Ireland as a “cycle regulator”. By 1965, when Dr Sheila Jones [who was later to become ‘medical director’ of the Irish Family Planning Association – an associate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation] was working in Jervis Street Hospital, the pill was already being prescribed for women with kidney damage to ensure that they did not get pregnant. “The Hospital was run by nuns, but they looked the other way,” she says.’ …Ireland was a country of two faces. Courageous doctors, nurses and lay supporters risked their professional lives and reputations to set up the Fertility Guidance Company Ltd (later the Irish Family Planning Association) in 1969. …’

Miss Sheridan has some further interesting remarks:
‘In Ireland, some would place the turning point [with regard to contraception] at around 1967, with the introduction of free secondary schooling and the resulting start of the average Irish Catholic’s journey along the road to individual conscience. A year later came the damning papal encyclical on contraception, Humanae Vitae, ignored by Irish couples in their tens of thousands. … Fifty years on, the pill is by no means perfect. Yes, the doses are lighter, but for all the choices available, women continue to carry the can of hormonal contraception and Irish doctors still hold themselves to be uniquely qualified to be the judges of women’s decisions. The latest power/money battle is over who dispenses emergency contraception. In France, school nurses are authorised to do it. Here only doctors may. … So, … if raising a glass to the pill, do raise a toast to Carl Djerassi, Gregory Pincus and John Rock, the scientists behind the marvel. Then raise several more to Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick, the extraordinary American women who championed and funded Pincus when Harvard denied him tenure. …’

Now – read my blog on Margaret Sanger (29 April) again.

You might also like to read (or re-read!) my blogs relating to Margaret Sanger at 14 and 19 April 2009, 17 March 2009, 8 January 2009, and 22 November 2008.

I wonder if Kathy Sheridan has read Humanae Vitae and, if so, does she realise how prophetic a document it is.