A History of the Contraceptive Pill

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In December of 1961, the Minister for Health, Enoch Powell announced that birth control pills would be available on the NHS. Some 60 years on and the pill has become such an integral part of our lives and an expected part of state-supplied birth control. However, this wasn’t initially the case and the NHS had previously been reluctant to enter the world of family planning.

GPs had been reluctant to get involved in the delicate matters of birth control and supplying contraception. Opinions began changing in the 1960s when the widespread availability of the pill, better latex condoms and the development of the intrauterine device meant that it was easier than ever before to control reproduction. However, it was the pill that had the biggest impact on 20th century living.

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The contraceptive pill was first developed during the 1950s by scientists in America led by Dr Gregory Pincus and assisted by a leading women’s rights campaigner. The hormones in the pill act by mimicking pregnancy, thus stopping conception. The first commercially available oral pill was called Enovid in the United States and it was licensed in 1960.

Trials took place in Britain during the 1960s and the Ministry for Health approved its use despite initial varying results. GPs and pharmacists now had to get involved in family planning services as the oral pill required medical advice and a prescription.

Once the pill was available on the NHS, prescriptions surged rapidly during the 1960s. There were 5 brand sin 1963, compared to 15 by 1966. Women were increasingly asking their doctors about the contraceptive pill and by 1970, there were 700,000 married women between 16 and 40 years of age who were taking the pill.

There have been various health scares throughout the last 6 decades. Reports in the U.S came not long after the pill was launched about the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and stroke. By the 1970s, evidence was coming to light of a link between taking the pill, smoking and blood clots. Due to these scares, the use of the pill declined during the 1980s and 1990s, when concerns were raised about thrombosis.

The pill has evolved and remains an essential part of the lives of many millions of women across the world. It’s important to remember though that to practice safe sex, it’s still necessary to use a barrier method. Whilst the pill will help protect against unwanted pregnancy, it will do nothing to protect from the spread of STIs. For Home STI kits Greenwich, visit https://www.greenwichsexualhealth.org/home_sti_kits

The NHS continued to adapt to the popularity of the contraceptive pill and supplied it to both single and married women. It was the National Health Service (Family Planning) Act, 1967 that gave local authorities the power to provide advice about birth control regardless of relationship status.

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When the NHS was re-organised in 1974, the family planning services were officially incorporated into the national service. From 1st April 1974, all advice and medication have been free of charge with no discrimination on the grounds of relationship status.


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