The Catholic Church remains resolutely opposed to artificial birth control, but Pope Pius XII announces that the Church will sanction the use of the rhythm method as a natural form of birth control. Previously, the only option approved by Rome was abstinence.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America runs 200 birth control clinics. Margaret Sanger has been successful in fighting legal restrictions on contraceptives, and birth control has gained wide acceptance in America. Still, Sanger remains deeply unsatisfied, because women have no better methods for birth control than they did when she first envisioned "the pill" over 40 years earlier.
January/February: Margaret Sanger, now 72 years old, makes one last ditch effort to find someone to invent her "magic pill." At a dinner party in New York City she is introduced to Gregory Pincus and implores him to take up her quest. To her surprise, he tells her that it might be possible with hormones, but that he will need significant funding to proceed.
April 25: Sanger manages to secure a tiny grant for Gregory Pincus from Planned Parenthood, and Pincus begins initial work on the use of hormones as a contraceptive at The Worcester Foundation. Pincus sets out to prove his hypothesis that injections of the hormone progesterone will inhibit ovulation and thus prevent pregnancy in his lab animals.
October: Pincus goes to the drug company G.D. Searle and requests additional funding from them for the pill project. Searle's director of research tells Pincus that his previous work for them was "a lamentable failure" and refuses to invest in the project.
October 15: Unbeknownst to Pincus or Sanger, a chemist named Carl Djerassi working out of an obscure lab in Mexico City creates an orally effective form of synthetic progesterone -- a progesterone pill. The actual chemistry of the Pill has been invented, but neither Djerassi nor the company he works for, Syntex, has any interest in testing it as a contraceptive.
January: In less than a year, Pincus confirms that progesterone works as an anti-ovulent in rabbits and rats. He informs Planned Parenthood of his findings and requests more funding. The organization, deciding his work is too risky, decides not to continue funding his research. The Pill project stagnates for lack of funding.
At a scientific conference, Pincus has a chance encounter with the renowned Harvard obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. John Rock. Pincus is astonished to learn that Rock has already been testing the chemical contraceptive on women and demonstrating that it works. Rock has been giving the same drug to his infertility patients with the eventual goal of stimulating pregnancy after his patients finish a 3 to 5 month regimen of progesterone injections.
Katharine McCormick, eager for results, stays in Boston for the winter to keep tabs on Rock and Pincus' progress.
The results from the first human trials are conclusive. Not one of the 50 women in the experiment ovulates while on the drug. Pincus and Rock are positive that they have found the perfect oral birth control pill.
October: Margaret Sanger invites Gregory Pincus to the 5th Annual International Planned Parenthood League conference in Tokyo, Japan, where Pincus announces the results of his progesterone study. Despite the magnitude of his announcement, the press at the conference remains skeptical and does not pick up the story.
December: At the prestigious Laurentian Conference
on Endocrinology in Canada, before an audience of scientists involved in hormone research, Rock presents a paper stating that the progesterone pill inhibits ovulation. Word spreads quickly through the scientific world and drug industry that Pincus and Rock have found a birth control pill.
After comparing the data from studies using both Syntex's and Searle's drugs, Rock picks Searle's formulation, called Enovid. to be the first birth control submitted for FDA approval in America.
April: Since anti-birth control laws in Massachusetts and many other states make it impossible for Rock to conduct the larger human studies necessary for FDA approval, Rock and Pincus launch the first large scale clinical trials for the Pill in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
November: The news of the Pill spreads to the general public. An article in Science magazine informs readers that women have taken a synthetic hormone as an oral contraceptive and it works.
December: The medical director in charge of the Puerto Rico trials informs Pincus and Rock that "Enovid gives 100% protection against pregnancy," but reports that the Pill causes too many side effects to be "accepted generally." Pincus and Rock proceed with the trials, convinced that while the Pill may cause discomfort, it is safe.
Pincus and Rock discover that Searle has been sending them pills contaminated with a minuscule amount of synthetic estrogen in addition to the progesterone -- a major set back for the trials. However, after testing new shipments of uncontaminated Enovid, they conclude that the combination of estrogen and progesterone (the same combination still used today) reduces some problems like breakthrough bleeding.
Rock selects a high dosage for the Pill in order to be absolutely certain that Enovid will prevent pregnancy without fail.
Summer: The FDA approves the use of Enovid for the treatment of severe menstrual disorders and requires the drug label to carry the warning that Enovid will prevent ovulation.
President Dwight Eisenhower states in a press conference that birth control "is not a proper political or government activity or function or responsibility" and adds emphatically that it is "not our business."
Oct. 29: Excited by the vast potential market for the Pill, Searle files an application with the FDA to license the 10 milligram Enovid -- the same pill approved for menstrual disorders -- for use as a contraceptive. The application is based on field trials with 897 women, making it one of the most extensively tested drugs to ever come before the FDA for approval.
With an eye on maximizing profits, Searle attempts to license lower doses of Enovid (2.5 and 5 milligram doses), but the FDA demands complete field trials for the lower dose versions as well.
Winter: The FDA reviews Searle's application for the first drug in history to be given to a healthy person for long-term use. Searle is doing $37 million in annual sales of the Pill for "menstrual disorders" and pushes the FDA for approval.
April: John Rock tells the national press that the Pill, since it simply extends a woman's "safe period," should be considered an extension of the Vatican -approved rhythm method.
May 11: Searle receives FDA approval to sell Enovid as a birth control pill. Searle is the first and only pharmaceutical company to sell an oral contraceptive and it has a lucrative monopoly.