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A Bitter Pill By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 15, 2000


"THE MOST SOCIALLY SIGNIFICANT medical advance of the century," is how Gloria Feldt, the president of Planned Parenthood, describes the Pill, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. "By giving them control over childbearing," she adds, "the Pill has enabled women to take charge of their education, their careers, and ultimately their lives."

That’s the spin anyway, from the organization whose founder, Margaret Sanger, was instrumental in bringing oral contraceptives to market. For four decades, the Pill has encapsulated the hopes and dreams of the feminist movement, delivered in daily doses to a hundred million women worldwide. Billed as a wonder drug that would bring women equality, empowerment, and fulfillment, the Pill, like the political movement that embraced it, promised a lot.

But the movement and the medication alike have had many side effects not just limited to Pill users. Forty years later, those consequences are impossible to ignore—no matter how much feminists may try.

There’s no denying that the Pill made good on its promise, as the New York Times put it, to "liberate" young women "from the social trappings of premarital chastity." The 1960s began an American sexual revolution that has only now begun to recede. By effectively thwarting women’s reproductive systems, the Pill and the revolution it enabled granted sexual partners the confidence that one-night stands would not become lifetime obligations. Not surprisingly, women now complain that most men think of them as little more than sexual objects, and are unwilling to "commit."

Only women can take the Pill, and so, as the Pill reshaped American culture, family planning became the concern of women only. (Abortion, by making babies a matter of "a woman’s choice," greatly contributed to this phenomenon.) The sexual revolution thereby freed men of the obligation to raise the children they fathered, and an obliging welfare state gladly stepped in to fill the void.

Since 1970, when many doctors began prescribing the Pill to unmarried women, illegitimacy has jumped from 10.7 to 32.6 percent. Far from rescuing single women from the depredations of men, as feminists predicted, the Pill has helped to make them more vulnerable.

Not that married women have fared much better. The Pill was supposed to be the great savior of marriage, relieving newlyweds of the burdens of early parenthood, and letting families space their childbirths over time. But by completely divorcing sex from the possibility of procreation, the Pill degraded the marital act from an expression of unconditional love, rooted in an openness to new life, to an exercise in physical and emotional gratification. This devaluation has no doubt contributed to the national rise in adultery—which experts estimate now affects at least half of all marriages—and the national divorce rate, which has more than doubled since 1960.

So much for the notion that the Pill, by ensuring that all babies would be planned and "wanted," would improve the lives of American children. Instead, by fostering irresponsibility and divorce, it has supported an epidemic of fatherlessness. Too many kids grow up today without a dad in the home, which not only damages their prospects for the future, but puts an undue responsibility on the shoulders of their mothers—some feminist accomplishment.

Yet the greatest lie behind the Pill—a lie propagated to this day by activists who would like to see it distributed in high schools across the country—is that whatever its deficiencies, it reduces the number of abortions. Feminists have succeeded for four decades in concealing from the American public—including many women who would never choose an abortion—that it can cause abortions.

Most of the time, the Pill prevents ovulation, that is, it stops a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg, thereby eliminating any chance of conception. Sometimes, however, "breakthrough ovulations" take place nevertheless, and conception occurs. In such instances, the Pill has a back-up mechanism: it prevents the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, thus causing its destruction.

Ortho–McNeil Pharmaceutical, one of the largest manufacturers of the Pill, describes the "primary mechanism" of its Ortho Tri-Cyclen tablets as the "inhibition of ovulation," but concedes that "other alterations include changes in … the endometrium (which reduces the likelihood of implantation)." In other words, the Pill may not only prevent a conception, it may also terminate one. By some estimates, the number of annual Pill-induced abortions could actually exceed the number of surgical abortions.

Abortion, however, has never much troubled feminists. Nor, for that matter, has familial breakdown, the corruption of marriage, or any of the Pill’s other legacies. For 40 years, the Pill has done a masterful job of serving the feminist agenda. Its record of serving women, especially when compared to natural family-planning methods, has been less impressive. Gloria Feldt can claim that "the Pill has enabled women to take charge of … their lives," but that’s a hard line to swallow.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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