Freethought Almanac

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May 9: Churches v. Birth Control

The Pill Approved (1960):
Churches v. Contraception

Oral Contraceptive Pill

It was on this date, May 9, 1960, that the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive for women. The effect on sexual freedom for women, a freedom until that time enjoyed only by men, was astonishing.

The pill was envisioned by legendary birth control crusader Margaret Sanger. Sanger was in her 80s in 1953 when she met with Roman Catholic Dr. Gregory Pincus. She gave him $150,000 and tasked him to research and develop an oral contraceptive for women that was safe and effective. In defiance of his church, and amid much negative publicity for attempting to thwart God's will — a will Sanger once described as "biological slavery" — Dr. Pincus succeeded.

The reaction of the churches was predictably punitive. Since the punishment for non-procreative sex was now gone — the enforced carrying of any pregnancy — the Catholic Church in particular had to cobble together reasons why "artificial" forms of birth control were bad and "natural" birth control was good. The result, an encyclical from Pope Paul VI in 1968, known as Humanae Vitae (Human Life), was a masterpiece of mendacity and slippery scholarship.

Proclaiming that artificial birth control is "any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act" — known to us as sex — "or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is illicit (Humanae Vitae, 14). This includes sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (that is, withdrawal), the Pill, and all other methods of artificial contraception.

What's insincere about that is this: the position is so out of touch with the reality of the modern world, which is only possible through "artificial" impositions on God's plan, as to border on insanity. Here's proof: Global population took from the dawn of civilization until 1804 to reach 1,000 million humans. But it took only another 123 years to reach its second thousand-million in 1927, and another 33 years to reach its third thousand-million in 1960, the year The Pill was approved. Less than 40 years later (1999), global population doubled again. What's going on? What was different about the world before 1804 and after 1804? The difference was death control, the complement of birth control.

In Biblical times, death by natural causes — particularly from disease and often abetted by poor diet and wretched sanitation — was naturally common. When civilization began to improve medical care and sanitation, invented antiseptics and anesthetics, and accepted the germ theory of disease, the result was a tripling of lifespan over the "good ol' days" of the Bible. But all this progress was achieved by "artificial" means. And the paradox is this: death control, in spite of God's plan, must be balanced by birth control — unless we plan to abandon the good things the modern world has brought us.

The contraceptive pill, and that other "artificial" stuff humans created to make life longer and better for women and men, are all that stand between a humane habitation of planet Earth and devastation by overpopulation.

Originally published May 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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