From Banned to Mandated

A history of contraceptives in the United States.

Last week, I began a series of blog posts about contraception and faith. Rather than rehashing the debate that ensued, please refer to Friday’s post that discusses contraception, Margaret Sanger, and women’s health in the developing world. Last week also featured a doctor’s perspective on hormonal contraceptive methods as well as my initial question of whether Christians are afraid to talk about contraception. From here on out, this series will concern itself with Christians here in the United States, and it will consist mostly of individuals describing the personal decisions they have made about contraception in light of their Christian faith, such as Mary Alice Teti’s piece earlier in the week. Before we continue with more personal perspectives, however, Kelley Mathews has offered a concise historical account of contraception in the United States over the past two hundred years:

Contraception has been a topic of debate in the United States for at least 200 years, revealing deeply held and disparate beliefs among Americans about sexuality, morality, and women’s bodies. Why would something so personal be discussed openly everywhere from Capitol Hill to Wall Street? A brief history of contraceptives helps to answer that question.

1800s and earlier

In the United States prior to the Industrial Revolution (1820–1870), most Americans wanting to limit family size relied on centuries-old contraceptive methods. People opposed to or without access to artificial means practiced natural family planning (NFP), which involves abstaining from intercourse while a woman is ovulating. Typical artificial barrier methods included condoms made from linen or animal intestines. Women also used douches created from …

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