As one of the researchers involved in the development of the oral contraceptive pill, Min Chueh Chang helped to revolutionize the birth control movement. Although best known for his involvement with "the pill," Chang also made a number of discoveries throughout his scientific career involving a range of topics within the field of reproductive biology. He published nearly 350 articles in scientific journals. His dedication to his work left him with little time for family responsibilities, although shortly after his arrival in the United States in 1951, Chang married Isabelle Chin, an American-born Chinese woman with whom he would later have three children.
Irving Freiler Stein Sr. was a physician who studied women’s reproductive health during the twentieth century in the United States. In partnership with his colleague, Michael Leventhal, Stein identified a women’s reproductive disorder related to elevated male sex hormones, or androgens. The syndrome was originally called Stein-Leventhal syndrome and later known as polycystic ovarian syndrome. While studying the syndrome, Stein also helped establish a treatment for the condition, through the surgical removal of ovarian tissues. Stein identified the symptoms related to the condition polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal imbalance estimated to be the most common female reproductive disorder as of 2017.
The copper intrauterine device, or IUD, is a long-term, reversible contraceptive first introduced by Howard Tatum and Jamie Zipper in 1967. Health care providers place an IUD inside a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. Copper IUDs are typically made of T-shaped plastic with some portion covered with exposed copper. Prior to the invention of the first IUDs, women had few long-term options for safe and reliable birth control. Those options mostly consisted of barrier methods and the oral birth control pill, which were only effective if used correctly and consistently. For women seeking to control their fertility, a copper IUD was one of the first forms of long-term birth control that was highly effective and did not require consistent and regular action on the woman’s part to remain effective.
In the late nineteenth century, the Comstock Act of 1873 made the distribution of contraception illegal and classified contraception as an obscenity. Reflecting the predominant attitude towards contraception at the time, the Comstock Act was the first federal anti-obscenity law that targeted contraception. However, social acceptance of birth control changed at the turn of the twentieth century. In this thesis, I analyzed legislation, advocates, and literature pertinent to that social change to report on the events leading up to the decriminalization of contraception.
In the 1962 case Planned Parenthood Committee of Phoenix v. Maricopa County, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Arizona Revised Statute 13-213, which banned the public advertising of contraceptive or abortion medication or services, was constitutional. However, the court also ruled that that Arizona Revised Statute 13-213 did not apply to Planned Parenthood's distribution of contraceptive information, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue distributing the information. Following the case, the Arizona law was challenged several times and eventually deemed unconstitutional in the 1973 case State v. New Times INC. The case Planned Parenthood Committee of Phoenix v. Maricopa County established that Planned Parenthood's distribution of medical literature was not advertising as described in the law, and it initiated a decade long discussion about the constitutionality of the laws preventing the distribution of materials related to contraception or abortion.
Endometriosis is a medical condition that involves abnormal growths of tissue resembling the endometrium, which is the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. Those growths, called endometrial lesions, typically form outside the uterus, but can spread to other reproductive organs such as ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometrial lesions swell and bleed during menstruation, which can cause painful and heavy menstruation, as well as infertility. As of 2021, there is no cure for endometriosis, although medical therapies such as birth control pills and GnRH analogues can treat the painful symptoms of endometriosis. More than eleven percent of women between the ages fifteen and forty-four in the US have endometriosis, which can often decrease a woman’s quality of life due to painful symptoms and impair her reproductive potential.
In 1904, physician William Henry Walling published Sexology, a family medicine reference book. In his book, Walling proposed that his guidance would help people who were married or single and young or old, as well as anyone who wanted to conform to, what he claims are, gender expectations. Sexology discusses issues such as masturbation, abortion, pregnancy, labor, and marriage. Despite Walling’s limited scientific explanations and evidence for his medical claims, the Puritan Publishing Company printed and distributed the book, which received many positive reviews and endorsements from other physicians, college presidents, politicians, and religious leaders. However, in the twenty-first century, people may consider many of Walling’s claims to be sexist and oppressive toward women. Sexology provides readers with examples of historical medical misconceptions of male and female anatomy and provides context for the logic of reproductive medicine at the turn of the twentieth century.
Harry Clay Sharp was a surgeon who performed one of the first recorded vasectomies with the purpose of sterilizing a patient. Sterilization is the practice that makes a person unable to reproduce, and vasectomy accomplishes that by severing the vasa deferentia, the sperm-carrying tubes in the male reproductive system. Historically, sterilization procedures have varied in techniques, goals, and risks, but Sharp’s method of vasectomy allowed restriction of a patient’s reproductive functions without significantly affecting other bodily functions. Historians have associated Sharp’s use of the procedure, primarily on prison inmates, with eugenics, a movement with the goal of bettering humans via selective reproductive practices. With vasectomy, Sharp was able to sterilize people whom he did not deem fit to reproduce. Beyond simply pushing forward a new surgical method of sterilization, Sharp’s political advocacy led to the use of his technique as a method of eugenicist control over human reproduction, especially in Indiana.
The NuvaRing is a self-administered hormonal contraceptive device in the form of a flexible plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina. It releases the hormones etonogestrel and ethinylestradiol, which are synthetic forms of the female reproductive hormones progesterone and estrogen, respectively. The pharmaceutical company Organon first made NuvaRing in the Netherlands in 1980s. The Netherlands first approved it for use in February of 2001, and the United States did the same in October of that year. To insert the NuvaRing, a user pinches the ring together to compress it and inserts it into the vaginal canal, where its exact placement does not matter. The NuvaRing stays in the vagina for three weeks, after which the user removes it for one week. During the week following removal, the user experiences bleeding similar to a menstrual period. The NuvaRing was one of the first monthly vaginal rings used for contraception, and it provides a self-administered method of birth control, which can be more accessible for some users than taking a birth control pill every day.
On 30 June 1980, in a five to four decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Case Harris v. McRae that the Hyde Amendment of 1976 did not violate the US Constitution. The Hyde Amendment banned the use of federal funding to pay for any abortion services. The US Supreme Court's decision in Harris v. McRae overturned the decision of McRae v. Califano (1980), in which the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York had ruled that the funding restrictions established by the Hyde Amendment violated the US Constitution. After the US Supreme Court's ruling in Harris v. McRae, the Hyde Amendment continued to prohibit federal Medicaid funding for abortion services, limiting the funds available for low-income women seeking abortions.