birth control

birth control

birth control, practice of contraception for the purpose of limiting reproduction.

Methods of Birth Control

Male birth control methods include withdrawal of the male before ejaculation (the oldest contraceptive technique) and use of the condom, a rubber sheath covering the penis. The condom, because of its use as a protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, has become a frequently used birth control device.

Contraceptive methods for women include the rhythm method—abstinence around the most likely time of ovulation—and precoital insertion into the vagina of substances (creams, foams, jellies, or suppositories) containing spermicidal chemicals. The use of a diaphragm, a rubber cup-shaped device inserted before intercourse, prevents sperm from reaching the uterine cervix; it is usually used with a spermicide. Contraceptive sponges, which are impregnated with a spermicide, also are inserted into the vagina before intercourse and work primarily by acting as a barrier to the sperm. Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are variously shaped small objects inserted by a doctor into the uterus; they apparently act by creating a uterine environment hostile either to sperm or to the fertilized egg.

The birth control pill, an oral contraceptive, involves a hormonal method in which estrogen and progestins (progesteronelike substances) are taken cyclically for 21 or 84 days, followed by 7 days of inactive or no pills. The elevated levels of hormones in the blood suppress production of the pituitary hormones (luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone) that would ordinarily cause ovulation. An oral contraceptive formulation that utilizes no inactive pills and is taken every day (and completely suppresses menstruation) also exists. Estrogen and progestins may also be delivered through the weekly use of a contraceptive skin patch or the monthly use of a vaginal ring (a flexible plastic ring inserted in the vagina); both slowly release the hormones they contain.

Sterilization of the female, often but not always performed during a Cesarean section or shortly after childbirth, consists of cutting or tying both Fallopian tubes, the vessels that carry the egg cells from the ovaries to the uterus. In male sterilization (vasectomy) the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the penis, are interrupted. Sterilization, in most cases irreversible, involves no loss of libido or capacity for sex.

No contraceptive yet devised is at once simple, acceptable, safe, effective, and reversible. Some, such as the diaphragm, condom, and chemical and rhythm methods, require high motivation by users; the pill, which must be taken daily, sometimes induces undesirable side effects, such as nausea, headache, weight gain, and increased tendency to develop blood clots. The IUDs, although requiring no personal effort or motivation, are often not tolerated or are expelled, and they sometimes, particularly if poorly designed, cause uterine infection, septic abortion, and other problems.

If birth control fails (or is not used), doctors may prescribe several large doses of certain oral contraceptives as "morning after" pills; the high level of hormones can inhibit the establishment of pregnancy even if fertilization has taken place. Mifepristone, or RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, is effective within seven weeks after conception and requires close medical supervision. It was first approved in Europe and was tested in the mid-1990s in United States, where it was approved in 2000. Another experimental technique is immunization against human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone secreted by a developing fertilized egg that stimulates production of progesterone by the ovary; the effect of the anti-HCG antibody would be to inactivate HCG and thereby induce menstruation even if fertilization occurred.

See also abortion; menstruation; reproductive system.

History of the Birth Control Movement

Although contraceptive techniques had been known in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the modern movement for birth control began in Great Britain, where the writings of Thomas Robert Malthus stirred interest in the problem of overpopulation. By the 1870s a wide variety of birth control devices were available in English and American pharmacies, including rubber condoms and diaphragms, chemical suppositories, vaginal sponges, and medicated tampons. Easy public access to contraceptive devices in the United States aroused the ire of Anthony Comstock and others, who lobbied Congress until it passed (1873) a bill prohibiting the distribution of these devices across state lines or through the mail. Moreover, in England in 1877, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were tried for selling The Fruits of Philosophy, a pamphlet on contraceptive methods, written in 1832 by an American, Charles Knowlton. After their famous trial, the Malthusian League was founded. Meanwhile, a variety of contraceptive devices remained available to a large public, usually advertised in veiled but unmistakable language.

In 1878 the first birth control clinic was founded in Amsterdam by Aletta Jacobs. The first U.S. birth control clinic, opened (1916) by Margaret Sanger in Brooklyn, N.Y., was closed by the police; she received a 30-day jail sentence. She later permanently established a clinic in New York City in 1923. In Great Britain the Malthusian League, aided by Marie Stopes, established a birth control clinic in London in 1921.

Sanger also helped organize (1917) the National Birth Control League in the United States; in 1921 it became the American Birth Control League, and in 1942 the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Meanwhile, in 1918 an American judge ruled that contraceptive devices were legal as instruments for the prevention of disease, and the federal law prohibiting dissemination of contraceptive information through the mails was modified in 1936. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, birth control advocates were engaged in numerous legal suits. In 1965 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the one remaining state law (in Connecticut) prohibiting the use of contraceptives.

The federal government began to take a more active part in the birth control movement in 1967, when 6% of the funds allotted to the Child Health Act was set aside for family planning; in 1970, the Family Planning Services and Population Act established separate funds for birth control. Birth control and sex education in schools continue to be emotional issues in the United States, where adolescent sexual activity and pregnancy rates are high and bring with them increased risks of sexually transmitted diseases and complications of pregnancy, as well as societal and personal costs.

Birth control on the international level is led by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, founded in 1952, with members in 134 countries by 1995. Sweden was one of the first countries to provide government assistance for birth control, which it did as early as the 1930s. Two of the more successful birth control programs have been in Japan, where the birthrate has been dramatically reduced, and—more controversially—in China, where the government has a "one family, one child" policy and local authorities have typically intimated women pregnant into aborting a second pregnancy. Several of the so-called underpopulated nations, however, have a stated policy of encouraging an increased birthrate, e.g., Argentina, and concern over declining populations has increased in recent years in certain Western European countries and Russia. Among religious bodies, the Roman Catholic Church has provided the main opposition to the birth control movement; popes Paul VI and John Paul II reaffirmed this stance in encyclicals.

Bibliography

See G. J. Hardin, Birth Control (1970); L. Lader Breeding Ourselves to Death (1971) and The Margaret Sanger Story (1955, repr. 1975); C. Djerassi, The Politics of Contraception (1981); E. Jones, Pregnancy, Contraception, and Family Planning Services in Industrialized Countries (1989); L. V. Marks, Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill (2001); A. Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America (2001).

Voluntary limiting of human reproduction, using such means as contraception, sexual abstinence, surgical sterilization, and induced abortion. The term was coined in 1914–15 by Margaret Sanger. Medically, birth control is often advised when childbirth might endanger the mother’s health or substantial risk exists of bearing a severely disabled child. Socially and economically, limitation of reproduction frequently reflects a desire to maintain or improve family living standards. Most religious leaders now generally agree that some form of fertility regulation is desirable, though the means are strongly debated. Seealso family planning.

Learn more about birth control with a free trial on Britannica.com.

The American Birth Control League was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921 at the First American Birth Control Conference in New York City. The League was incorporated under the laws of New York State on April 5, 1922. Its headquarters were located at 104 Fifth Avenue, New York City from 1921-1930 and at various offices on Madison Avenue from 1931-1939. It was not associated with the National Birth Control League, founded in 1915 by Mary Coffin Ware Dennett, which was later called the Voluntary Parenthood Association.

History

Birth Control Leagues had already been formed in a number of larger American cities between 1916 and 1919 due to Sanger's lecture tours and the publication of the Birth Control Review. By 1924, the American Birth Control League had 27,500 members, with ten branches maintained in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado, and British Columbia.

In June 1928, Margaret Sanger resigned as president of the American Birth Control League, founding the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control and splitting the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau from the League. In 1939 the two were reconciled and merged to form the Birth Control Federation of America. In 1942 the name was changed to Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Goals and activities

At its founding, the ABCL announced the following purposes:

  • To enlighten and educate all sections of the American public in the various aspects of the dangers of uncontrolled procreation and the imperative necessity of a world programme of birth control.
  • To correlate the findings of scientists, statisticians, investigators, and social agencies in all fields.
  • To organize and conduct clinics where the medical profession may give to mothers and potential mothers harmless, reliable methods of birth control.
  • To enlist the support and coöperation of legal advisors, statesmen, and legislators in effecting the removal of State and Federal statutes which encourage dysgenic breeding.

Margaret Sanger listed the following aims of the organization in the appendix of her book " The Pivot of Civilization"

  • Research: To collect the findings of scientists, concerning the relation of reckless breeding to the evils of delinquency, defect and dependence;
  • Investigation: To derive from these scientifically ascertained facts and figures, conclusions which may aid all public health and social agencies in the study of problems of maternal and infant mortality, child-labor, mental and physical defects and delinquence in relation to the practice of reckless parentage.
  • Hygienic and Physiological instruction by the Medical profession to mothers and potential mothers in harmless and reliable methods of Birth Control in answer to their requests for such knowledge.
  • Sterilization of the insane and feebleminded and the encouragement of this operation upon those afflicted with inherited or transmissible diseases, with the understanding that sterilization does not deprive the individual of his or her sex expression, but merely renders him incapable of producing children.
  • Education: The program of education includes: The enlightenment of the public at large, mainly through the education of leaders of thought and opinion--teachers, ministers, editors and writers to the moral and scientific soundness of the principles of Birth Control and the imperative necessity of its adoption as the basis of national and racial progress.
  • Political and Legislative: To enlist the support and cooperation of legal advisers, statesmen and legislators in effecting the removal of state and federal statutes which encourage dysgenic breeding, increase the sum total of disease, misery and poverty and prevent the establishment of a policy of national health and strength.
  • Organization: To send into the various States of the Union field workers to enlist the support and arouse the interest of the masses, to the importance of Birth Control so that laws may be changed and the establishment of clinics made possible in every State.
  • International: This department aims to cooperate with similar organizations in other countries to study Birth Control in its relations to the world population problem, food supplies, national and racial conflicts, and to urge upon all international bodies organized to promote world peace, the consideration of these aspects of international amity.

In 1921, the ABCL organized the First American Birth Control Conference at New York City, November 11-18, 1921. Subsequent conferences were held over the next two years in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Albany, and Chicago. The ABCL arranged the holding of the Sixth International Birth Control Congress in the United States in 1925. The ABCL published leaflets, pamphlets, books, and a monthly missal named Birth Control Review. Margaret Sanger served as the first president of the organization. The vice-presidents were Charlotte Delafield and Juliet Barrett Rublee. Frances B. Ackerman served as the first Treasurer. Anne Kennedy was the Executive Treasurer. Lothrop Stoddard and C. C. Little were among the founding directors.

Other presidents of the ABCL were: Eleanor Dwight Jones 1928-1934, Catherine Clement Bangs (1934-1936) and C. C. Little (1936-1939).

References

External links

Search another word or see birth controlon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;