The Truth Behind Birth Control Pills

Birth Control pills have been a part of the feminist agenda for a long time. It even became a movement to make it available to women across the world once it was completely assembled, yet we're still fighting for the right of the birth control pill to be accessible to women without any government contraception. But are you aware of first women to ever use birth control pills?


With March being Women’s History month, and it coming to an end, it is important to highlight the women that made birth control a possibility to the modern woman. Last year, Mitú released an article titled The Twisted Racist History of the Puerto Rican Pill Trials. The article discusses how Puertoriqueñas where used as lab-rats for the first ever birth control pills. Now, let’s think about this for a minute, because the women that were used for the trials didn’t even know they were consuming pills with three times more hormones than the ones we consume today. These puertoriqueñas were not only experiencing mood swings, weight loss, and dizziness, but they had no knowledge of while what was causing them. They were the beginning of the Birth Control Pill most of us women use, but they didn’t know they were the clinical trial of the pills.


In 1954, Doctors John Rock and Gregory Pincus began testing birth control pills with 50 women in Boston, but they were having problems with some laws against contraception and the strong side effects women were encountering. In the states, the law was not the only one strictly against contraception; cultural and religious opposition were also responsible for the relocation of the trials. Therefore, they decided to move their trials to Puerto Rico, where there were no contraceptive laws, and where targeting women with scarce resources would be a breeze. Economically struggling Puertorriqueñas knew already about the term “contraception”, because since Puerto Rico was at the time USA most over populated territory, the law had created over 50 clinics that were in charge of giving contraceptive tools as a form of population control. There is no doubt that women with scarce resources were a strategic marketing piece in the trials, as the doctors wanted to prove that if poor, uneducated women could use the pill successfully, everyone could as well. And they wouldn’t be stopped by the government laws because they were already trying to control and even stop the lower income class from reproducing themselves.


Puertorriqueñas became a target, as they weren’t told that mood swings, weight loss, dizziness, and more unknown risks like high blood pressure and depression were secondary effects of the pills. They were simply informed instead that this medicine was going to help them prevent having children they couldn’t support economically. This was a political move to maintain the growth of the population at a “healthy” number. Since the government didn’t want the lower classes to keep reproducing themselves, they chose the women from this class to experiment with the birth control pills. They took advantage of them, by giving them housing in Rio Piedras that had clean running water and balconies, and they became naïve and thought that were being treated as queens, but in reality, they were referred to by many as guinea pigs.


The housing provided by the government was a complex of buildings that gave the Puerto Rican women hope of a better economic future, since many American companies came to Puerto Rico and were giving these same women jobs. But the truth behind the complex was so that the doctors could have their eyes on them 24/7 and the companies mentioned worked as a distraction of the bigger picture. After years of testing the pill, Dr. Rice, the doctor in charge of the trials progress in Puerto Rico, informed that the pill was 100% successful when it was taking accordingly. The doctor also informed that over 10% of the women in the trial experienced constant nausea, stomach ache, vomiting, dizziness, and headaches, which got worst when they were taking 10 milligrams or more of Enovid. Rock and Pincus decided to dismiss the side effects as something improbable because they knew that what they had done was unethical. With this, trying to cut the lines to the pill being responsible for the death of three women that were participating in the trials, that it was later found that there was no investigation held on the pill being as being the cause of their deaths.


After years of the pill being successfully completed and the trials coming to an end, the puertorriqueñas found out the truth behind the drug they took to prevent pregnancy. They learned that it was an actual clinical trial and that they had been tricked into consuming something that was not 100% accurately done. All the side effects they went through were horrible, and  they are somehow lucky they only had them and didn’t die during the trials. Dying wasn’t something that even went through their minds because, according to Rock and Pincus, they were only using a drug that would help them to not conceive more children.


As a young Puerto Rican woman who takes birth control pills to treat my polycystic ovaries, this is something that stings in my heart. To know that young women my age were being used as guinea pigs infuriates my soul. They were not only misinformed, but they were being taken advantage off, and that’s a complete violation of their rights. It saddens me to know that the women of the country I live in, the same age as my great-grandmother, suffered from this. It hurts to even say that thanks to them, we can now control our periods, hormones, and treat different diseases. It’s hard to say that thanks to the naïveness the puertorriqueñas had on the topic of birth control pills as we now have something that’s a helpful key to our bodies.


I hope that this article not only informs about the truth behind birth control pills, but also teaches us to not take for granted the women that were key to the development of it.