This Month in Medical History – Margaret Sanger and the first birth control clinic

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | October 24, 2016
Women's Health
From the October 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


In August 1914, she was indicted for mailing her pamphlet. Rather than stand trial, she fled to England. While there, her estranged husband, William, gave a copy of her work, Family Limitation, to Anthony Comstock, the former USPS postal inspector for whom the law was named. William was subsequently sentenced to 30 days in prison, but it opened the floodgates to putting the focus on birth control and contraception as a civil liberties issue.

Sanger’s conviction for circulating her works through the postal service in violation of the Comstock Law was reversed after the judge ruled that contraceptive devices could be used to cure or prevent diseases. However, advertising birth control devices as birth control was prohibited for another 18 years. The final vestiges of the Comstock Law remained until around 1972 when Massachusetts and Connecticut struck them down.

Sanger, meanwhile, did not let any grass grow under her feet. She continued to work on improving education and access to birth control and contraception. She partnered with Dr. Gregory Pincus, and through that partnership, Enovid, the first oral contraceptive to be approved by the FDA, would be created. Sanger also founded the American Birth Control League, the predecessor of Planned Parenthood. She died in 1966, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case that effectively legalized birth control.

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