Time's Nancy Gibbs celebrated the birth control pill's 50th anniversary in her May 3 cover story by hailing the greater employment opportunities for women that resulted from its wide-spread use. But she failed to explore the downsides of it.
The Pill became widely available in 1960, first to married women who wanted to control their fertility and later, to single women. And though the 1960s led to the sexual revolution, Gibbs claimed that it wasn't the Pill itself that caused the "liberalization of attitudes" regarding sexuality. However, the anecdotes she included in the article discredited that argument.
"Margaret" told Gibbs her thoughts about sex with her boyfriend (who refused to wear a condom) before and after going on the Pill.
"I was too scared of getting pregnant to risk using nothing though he tried to convince me," explained Margaret. According to Gibbs taking the Pill "was a revelation" for Margaret. "The second I went on the Pill," she continued, "all the mess and worry and holding my breath every month to see if I got my period was completely lifted off my shoulders. I wish I had used it from the get-go. You forget how that anxiety can rule your life."
By 1970, ten years after the Pill's debut, Gibbs argued "the true impact of the Pill could begin to be measured, and it was not on the sexual behavior of American women; it was how they envisioned their lives, their choices and their obligations." She continued, "In 1970 the median age at which college graduates married was about 23; by 1975, as use of the Pill among single women became more common, that age had jumped 2.5 years."
Gibbs cited research from Harvard economist Claudia Goldin that "showed the connection between the point at which different states allowed access to the Pill and the progress women in those states made," to prove that the Pill had a bigger impact on education and employment than on sexual morals.
No where in the article did Gibbs note the increased rates in sexually transmitted diseases since the Pill's inception. A 2007 LifeSiteNews article stated, "In 1960 there were only three STD; now there are two dozen that are incurable."
Nor does Gibbs discuss the health risks associated with the Pill, except for those from the earliest versions. "Many [of the 6.5 million women taking the Pill in 1965] complained of side effects - dizziness, weight gain, nausea, even blood clots - which were partly alleviated by the introduction of a lower-dose Pill," she wrote. She noted a recent study that found "women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease" but ignored a World Health Organization report that labeled combined Pills (those with both estrogen and progestin) carcinogenic, due to evidence of increased rates of cervical cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer in users.
Missing too, from Gibbs' celebration is the acknowledgment that many women still have mood swings, weight gain and decreased sex drives as a result of taking the Pill.
No women were featured in the article to provide insight as to why a woman would not take the Pill. Instead, Gibbs turned to Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and framed the "backlash" as strictly religious in nature, when for some women, it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with pumping their bodies full of hormones.
"The heart of the concern, in this view, is that using contraception can weaken the marital bond by separating sex from procreation," wrote Gibbs about Protestants reluctance about birth control.
NOW president Terry O'Neill characterized religious backlash against the Pill as a means to "re-establish patriarchal structures, where women are subordinate to male family members," a charge which Mohler accepted in part.
The Pill, he said, "change the woman's moral horizon from a likelihood of becoming pregnant to a total lack of likelihood. I'm certain feminists champion that as a tremendous gain necessary for their liberation in the workforce and elsewhere - I think it's fair to say social conservatives have great concerns about that entire package."
There are plenty of women in the Christian conservative movement Gibbs could have turned to for insight, such as Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright and Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse or The Ruth Institute's Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse. Yet her choice to turn to Mohler conveniently put a white evangelical male face on concern about the birth control pill.
There's no doubt that the birth control pill had a tremendous impact on American women, but a better examination of that impact would have included its negative consequences as well.