Hard to swallow

PBS's 'The Pill'

Last month, as part of the highly regarded American Experience series, PBS stations across the country aired The Pill, a documentary history of the invention of the first effective oral contraceptive. Written and directed by Chana Gazit, a self-described member of the "pill generation," the show chronicles the successful crusade for the birth-control pill. It combined interviews with several noted historians of the birth-control movement, archival images and voices of advocates and opponents of the pill, and personal reflections by baby-boom women who came of age during the 1960s and l970s.

Although the story of the birth-control pill has been told more than once, it’s probably a good time to take another look. More than forty years have passed since the FDA approved oral contraceptives. Public controversy over the pill’s use is over. Indeed, the pill itself may be on its way out. In what the Wall Street Journal recently described as the biggest change in birth control since the advent of the pill, drug companies are rolling out a new generation of hormonal patches, rings, injections, and morning-after pills, all designed to make birth control more "hassle-free." Today especially, as Americans face the prospect of the total bioengineering of human reproduction, it is useful to reflect on how and when it all began.

Regrettably, though, The Pill missed the opportunity to provide insight or perspective. It...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.