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1961: Birth control pill 'available to all'

Women who wish to have oral contraception will now be able to get it on the National Health Service.

The Health Minister, Enoch Powell, made an announcement in the House of Commons today but did not give any guidelines as to whom the pill should be given.

"It is not for me to indicate to doctors when they should decide for medical reasons to prescribe for their patients," he said.

However some GPs are in a dilemma over whether they can prescribe the Pill, as it is commonly known, for social as well as medical reasons.

Financial 'burden'

Several companies are busy manufacturing the product in Britain which will cost the NHS just over one shilling a pill - 17s a month.

And some politicians are anxious that the drug could be a huge financial burden on the Treasury which currently spends 90m a year on drugs provided by the health service.

The oral contraceptive is a combination of a synthetic hormones oestrogen and progestogen taken to prevent conception by hampering monthly release of an egg cell from the ovary.

Pills have to be taken regularly in order to work and some physicians are concerned about the effects the drug could have on the body's delicate balance of hormones.

Sir Charles Dodds, Britain's leading expert on the drugs contained in the Pill and who heads a research institute at Middlesex Hospital, has said the pills could have long-term side-effects.

He compared a woman's body with a clock mechanism. "Even if you thoroughly understand the mechanism of a clock, provided it is going well it is very much better to leave it alone. To interfere with it if you do not understand it can be disastrous," he said.

The Family Planning Association, which runs clinics all over Britain, is still deciding whether or not to gives the go-ahead to its physicians to issue the Pill to married women.

Two scientists at Birmingham University will carry out basic experiments on the Pill because it is not fully understood how it works.

In the current issue of the Queen's Medical Magazine, Birmingham Medical School's journal, they write: "Much careful quantitative work remains to be done before the biological action of these drugs is understood and before any recommendations of these drugs for routine use by the medical profession."

In Context
The rest of the decade saw a huge demand for what is an extremely effective form of birth control. It remains the most popular reversible contraceptive in the UK and the USA in spite of various health scares since its invention in the early 1950s.

To prevent side-effects produced by combined hormone pills - such as fluid retention, depression, weight gain, and in rare cases thrombosis - progestogen-only pills were developed in the 1980s. They have fewer side-effects than the combined pill but are slightly less efficient.

Pioneers behind the invention of the Pill include Marie Stopes who opened a birth control clinic in London in 1921 and Margaret Sanger, an American campaigner for women's rights.

Mrs Sanger coined the phrase "birth control" and raised $150,00 to fund the development of the first human contraceptive pill first invented by Carl Djerassi at a laboratory in Mexico in 1951.

It was Frank Colton, an American chemist, who invented the first commercially available oral contraceptive named Enovid in 1960 and produced by GD Searle and Co. In 1964 Searle took in $24 million in net profits from Pill sales.


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