The most significant difference between the pill and its alternatives was that it was the first to prevent pregnancy through a physiological change in the woman’s body. The pill was more than just a physical barrier between the male and female that tried to prevent the fertilization of a woman’s eggs. Instead, it fooled the body into believing it was already pregnant.




Question: What is the most dependable form of contraception?

Answer: The same as always-fifteen feet of fresh air 

-John Rock, developer of the pill [1]

Diaphragms and Pessaries were forms of female barrier protection that would have to be inserted before having sex and taken out and cleansed when finished. These methods were used throughout the early part of the 19th century before the development of the pill. The pill was beneficial in comparison to these methods because it was taken once a day, every day (with the exception of one week). It allowed women to not have to plan or prepare for sex in any way immediately leading up to the act. In addition to this, there were many problems with the Pessaries and diaphragms that were prescribed. For example, Asbell describes some of the negative experiences of those using alternatives to the pill: “in some instances flanges of the wishbone Pessaries were known to have perforated the walls of the uterus. In others the contraption became embedded in the cervix and had to be removed surgically.”[2] As a result of this, the FDA insisted that “All contraceptive devices which are inserted into the cervical canal or into the uterus are dangerous and ought to be illegal.”[3] In addition to female methods of barrier protection, condoms could also be worn by the male partner. Joan McCracken [4] describes why this method was not preferred in her interview, made available by PBS. In this she states that “in those days, the kind of birth control there was, was either a diaphragm or a condom. And condoms were not an acceptable method, for many reasons. That was a method of a lower class.”[5]

Another alternative was the Intra-Uterine device. This is a device that must be inserted into the uterus by a doctor or medical professional. It can remain in place during the entire length of time that a woman wishes to prevent conception, and can be removed if one decides that she wants to have to children. One of the first forms of this birth control method was released in 1970 by the A.H. Robins Company. It was known as the “Dalkon Shield.” However, upon its release, it had not yet been tested or approved by the FDA. In its early form, insertion was painful and a number of deaths could be linked to its use. Because of the lawsuits and increased liability that resulted, companies in the US ceased to distribute such devices. IUD’s did not have to be tested or FDA approved before release because they were not considered drugs. Therefore, problems that arose were a result of the lack of proof of safety or effectiveness.[6] As women heard increasing reports that the IUD caused “chronic and acute infection, perforations, infertility, complicated pregnancies, and injury to and loss of vital body parts and functions,” the birth control pill became a much better prospect.[7]

Many other alternatives were not nearly as effective as the pill. Members of the church advocated the use of rhythm, which involved keeping track of the woman’s menstrual cycle to determine when she was least likely to conceive. Leslie Woodcock-Tentler describes this method to be “as unsatisfying and as putatively unreliable as many lay people found it to be. And once you don’t have that as your fallback position, you’re, I think; open to looking for another answer.”[8]

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