Eugenics & Contraception, part 17

Barbara Seaman was a socialist, feminist, and journalist in the 1960s. She wrote for Brides and Ladies Home Journal, and overtly feminist magazines like Ms. Seaman lost her beloved aunt Sally to endometrial cancer, which her oncologist blamed on a high estrogen medicine she’d been prescribed for menstrual symptoms.  While Seaman believed in the importance of birth control, she worried the Pill could be as dangerous as what her aunt had taken. 

In 1969 she published her first book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill. It laid out health risks, symptom complaints, and other concerns about the safety of high estrogen birth control. Every negative outcome Seaman attributed to estrogen (blood clots, stroke, heart attack, endometrial cancer, etc.) has been shown correct by subsequent studies. 

Her book found its way to Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin, who’s best remembered for establishing Earth Day. In 1970 he called a congressional hearing to listen to evidence and debate the safety of the Pill, known as the Nelson Pill Hearings. Specific health concerns discussed included blood clots, heart problems, weight gain, decreased sex drive, and depression. 

While the pharmaceutical companies involved were invited to testify and give comment, everyday women who took the Pill were not. This reasonably angered feminist and women’s health activists. One such woman was Alice Wolfson, who shouted out interjections from the gallery including “Why is there no pill for men?”, “Why are 10 million women being used as guinea pigs?”, and “Why have you told [drug companies] that they could get top priority? They’re not taking the pills, we are!” 

Wolfson and Seaman met that day and for the remainder of the hearings they collaborated to place feminists in the audience, on the steps outside, and wherever media cameras were. This activism pharmaceutical companies to develop lower estrogen pills. The direct outcome of the hearings was new labels warning of side effects, and a patient information pamphlet included with every packet of pills. Such information is now mandated for all prescription drugs. We can thank Seaman, Nelson, and Wolfson for that. 

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