The Cat’s Out of the Bag...
For Searle, a small and growing pharmaceutical company, the prospect of a birth control pill was tempting — and terrifying.
By the 1950’s, Roman Catholics made up twenty-five percent of the American population. And the drug companies were very scared that if they produced and marketed a birth control pill, not only would Catholics not buy the pill, but they would boycott all the other products made by that company.
In 1957, Searle took a tentative step -- releasing the Pill under the name Enovid, as a treatment for menstrual disorders. Within two years, 500,000 women were getting prescriptions for the new drug.
I mean the cat’s out of the bag. More women overnight developed menstrual disorders than you could possibly believe. I mean this pill was being prescribed everywhere because everyone knew that the real effect of the pill was to suppress ovulation.
Suddenly, Searle saw the pill, not as a public relations problem, but as a potential money maker.
Can you imagine having a pill that had nothing to do with illness, nothing to do with treatment, not that you would take once or twice, but that you might take for the next twenty years. Think of the market.
A Searle executive wrote Pincus, “The powers that be are breathing down our neck in the hopes of speeding up our application to the Food and Drug Administration."
On May 11,1960, seven years after Gregory Pincus had received his first check from Katharine McCormick, the FDA finally gave its approval to the birth control pill.
For the very, very, very first time, women would be set free to enjoy sex, without the fear of pregnancy hanging over their head. They did not have to get up in the dark of night as one woman said and walk across the ice cold linoleum in her bare foot to go into the bathroom and get the diaphragm. Women for the very, very first time were going to be sexually as free as men.
It was stunning when the pill was first approved. Um, the manufacturers almost couldn’t make enough.
It was amazing, it was amazing. I think there were a million users in a year and that’s just a phenomenal, uh, rate of uptake, especially because you don’t have this kind of direct advertising and because it’s not an over-the-counter drug.
It was the fashionable thing to be on the pill. And so rapidly uh, women picked this up all over the country and uh, within a few years half the...half the women that were in the childbearing age were on the pill, so it seemed.
As the Pill’s popularity grew, so did concern over the social impact of an oral contraceptive.