March 9, 1960: The FDA approves the first commercial birth control pill
These days, birth control pills are a regular part of many women’s lives, so ubiquitous that they are often referred to simply as “the pill.” They take them frequently, often without thinking about it, simply as part of their routine. The pill shouldn’t be taken for granted, however, as it really hasn’t been available for long! On this day in 1960, only 59 years ago, the FDA approved the very first mass-produced birth control pill.
Commissioning the first pill: Enovid-10
Today, women have a good number of choices when they want a birth control pill. On March 5, 1960, however, women had exactly one choice: Enovid-10. Enovid was commissioned by Margaret Sanger, who would become known as a pioneer in birth control. The research was funded by wealthy heiress Katherine McCormick. Sanger, who had already opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, wanted a more practical and safer method of contraception than was available at the time.
Before “the pill” women resorted to less safe contraceptives. This came from the simple desire to be able to engage in sexual intercourse without the possibility of creating another mouth to feed. Methods of contraception before Enovid ranged from the use of intra-cervical devices to contraceptive sponges and condoms made from animal parts.
The formula for birth control
While Sanger and McCormick were the driving forces behind the creation of the first birth control pill, Enovid-10 was developed by Dr. Gregory Pincus, a pharmacist working for G. D. Searle & Company. This pill contained a combination of mestranol (estrogen) and norethynodrel (progestogen). Originally, Enovid (or Enavid, in the United Kingdom) was released as a treatment for menstrual disorders, however, the FDA soon also approved it as a contraceptive.
Enovid had few side-effects, including some nausea and weight gain and, in a few rare cases, blood clots. Women of the time were more than willing to look over these few issues to have a safe and reliable contraceptive. The only thing downside to Enovid-10 at its release was the price of the pills. The equivalent price today would be around $80 for a prescription, but the price dropped and by 1963, more than two million women were taking “the pill.”