While attending temple services, Wall Street Journal reporter and author Jonathan Eig heard something that piqued his curiosity. His rabbi said that the birth control pill was the single most important invention of the 21st Century.
When the pill became widely available in the 1960s, it was the first time in history women were able to control their fertility. The pill improved women’s health by allowing them to space pregnancies and reduce family size. The advent of the birth control pill led to women attending college and pursuing careers in record numbers. The pill revolutionized the way our culture viewed the role of women and sexuality.
This got Eig thinking. If the birth control pill was such an important advancement, why did he know nothing about how it was invented, or how it came to be the most commonly used form of birth control in the United States? Four out of five sexually active women will be on the pill at some point in their lives. And yet most Americans have no idea how the “magic pill” became a reality.
True to his reporter roots, Eig began researching, and discovered the fascinating story of four rebels who changed the world. The story would eventually become his best-selling book The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. Among the crusaders was Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who enlisted the assistance of her fellow suffragist, the heiress Katharine McCormick. The two recruited Catholic doctor John Rock and ousted Harvard scientist Gregory Pincus. In their 10-year journey, the four took the birth control pill from fringe concept to mainstream reality.
“A lot of people know about Margaret Sanger,” Eig said. “And a few people had heard of the scientists, but no one knew how important (primary donor) Katharine McCormick was in the invention of the pill.” Eig says it is no exaggeration to say that without her philanthropic commitment to the cause, there might not be a birth control pill. “It’s a really practical lesson,” Eig said. “There’s nothing deep or philosophical about the fact that without the money, a lot of good intentions fall by the wayside.”
Eig is excited to address one of the largest Planned Parenthood affiliates in the country and share his insights on the history and future of the movement. “As I was working on the book, I was in this alternate universe writing about these heroes fighting to make birth control available to women, and now I get to talk to Planned Parenthood supporters who are on the front line today,” said Eig. “It is sad that we are still fighting many of the same battles, but it’s rewarding to meet people committed to maintaining these rights.”