60 Years Later, What Does “The Pill” Mean For Reproductive Rights – And For All Of Us?
What does 60 years of the pill mean in Australia and New Zealand? It means celebrating 60 years of empowering women to be in control of their own reproductive destinies. Today, more than 41% of the 208 million annual pregnancies that occur worldwide are unplanned1. But for the past 150 years, Bayer has been envisioning a world where every pregnancy is wanted and every contraceptive user feels supported in their decisions. It’s a story that Bayer has been part of from the beginning – and that we continue to write, every day.
What does “the pill” mean…
...for someone who’s childfree by choice?
When the earliest version of “the pill” was introduced to Australia and New Zealand markets in 1961, it was rightly recognized as a revolution for those who didn’t wish to become pregnant. The first commercially available oral contraceptive arrived amid the second wave of the “Women’s Liberation Movement.” At first, oral contraceptives were taxed as a luxury product at a prohibitive 27.5%, and were only available with a prescription to those who were married2. But while it wasn’t immediately accessible to all, the effectiveness and discretion of “the pill” represented an important moment in the fight for gender equality. Even today, it remains one of the most effective and popular forms of birth control available.
In the years since the pill’s arrival, LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) have introduced further options for women hoping to take control of their reproductive health. LARCs, which are inserted by a doctor, can stay in the body for years at a time, providing reliable, low-maintenance, long-term protection from pregnancy. These long-acting solutions may be particularly well-suited to women without reliable access to healthcare. Bayer has set a goal to provide 100M women in low- and middle-income countries with access to modern contraception by 20303 – a promising step towards a world where everyone can be in control of their own health.
But the conversation around contraception’s impact isn’t just about pregnancy. The continuing evolution of contraceptives represents great strides for other conditions as well. With the guidance of a medical professional, many women rely on these products to regulate periods, alleviate severe acne, and control other conditions that can lead to better day-to-day lives for users.
...for someone who wants children, but not right now?
For those who do wish to become pregnant at some point, contraceptives can empower women to decide when that pregnancy would be best for themselves and their families. Every year, as many as 16 million adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth4, posing significant health risks to both parent and child. Within this age group, pregnancy-related deaths are among the leading causes of mortality. And while the majority of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mortality in childbirth is not limited to those geographies.
Even in industrialized nations like Australia and New Zealand, unplanned pregnancies are associated with a higher level of risk for complications for both parent and child5. Of course, certain communities and socio-economic groups are more at risk for dangerous pregnancies than others – and for those that are, contraceptives represent not just a personal choice, but a literal lifeline to health and safety. By ensuring that no person is put in a position of giving birth before they are ready, contraception not only puts the decision in the hands of women – it can help decrease the risk of mortality in childbirth globally.
And adolescents aren’t the only ones who benefit from delaying pregnancy. A 2019 report6 found that women who had reliable access to contraceptives in their early reproductive years earned an average of 11% more per year in their early 40s, owing to the ability to delay pregnancy until later in their career. Even delaying the birth of a first child until a childbearing woman’s late 20s or 30s can significantly help mitigate the wage gap, and contribute to greater economic stability for the family7.
The far-reaching effects of this are clear. For this reason and many others, the U.N. has identified its goal of ensuring “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes8” as one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to target by 2030, identifying it as a crucial step toward furthering of Gender Equality. When contraceptives allow women to determine the shape of their own lives – lives filled with fulfilling careers, education, travel, community involvement, and more, in addition to family planning – it helps clear the pathway toward gender equality.
...for someone who’s continuing to grow their family?
For those who are ready to grow their family, contraception can make the choice to start trying to have another child all the more intentional. Family planning is often not just about “how many,” but also “when”. And when women can space out their pregnancies – whether they opt for having children three years apart, five years apart, or even 10 years apart – they have greater control over the futures of those families, as well as their own health and wellbeing. Pregnancies that occur with a gap of 18 months or less in between have been associated with low birth weights as well as later developmental hurdles for children9. But when women can more precisely time their pregnancies, there are positive outcomes for parent and child alike – with childbearing parents being 4.5 percent more likely to receive a college education as a result of access to contraceptive care10.
...for communities and future generations?
All of these benefits can have far-reaching effects beyond the contraceptive user. In families and communities around the world, it has been observed that those with reliable and safe access to contraceptives are able to secure more stable and healthy lives for themselves, their children, and even their extended families. One study found that access to state-funded family planning programs reduced the likelihood of children living in poverty by as much as 7.4 percent11.
Beyond the economic impact of unplanned pregnancies, there are often real psychological and developmental ones as well. An Australian study that followed children from unplanned pregnancies for 14 years found them more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and to engage in underage drinking and smoking than their peers12 – an unexpected side-effect of lack of access to contraceptives, and one with community-wide implications.
So, when we talk about women taking control of their reproductive destinies, we’re also talking about the destinies of many others. But when we reach an era where every pregnancy is wanted – on a contraceptive user’s terms, and on their timeline – we come one step closer to securing a better future for everyone.
Date of prep: September 2021 / PP-PF-WHC-AU-0072-1
1 World Contraception Day Coalition, Global Perspectives on Unplanned Pregnancies. Available via https://www.your-life.com/sites/g/files/vrxlpx11871/files/2021-08/WCD_YourLife_CoalitionFramework.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
2 National Museum of Australia, Defining Moments: The Pill. Available via https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/the-pill (Last accessed September 2021).
3 “Bayer and Direct Relief Partnership Expands Access to Contraceptives with New Grant Initiative”. Published December 2020. Available via https://www.biospace.com/article/releases/bayer-and-direct-relief-partnership-expands-access-to-contraceptives-with-new-grant-initiative-/ (Last accessed September 2021)
4 World Contraception Day Coalition, Global Perspectives on Unplanned Pregnancies. Available via https://www.your-life.com/sites/g/files/vrxlpx11871/files/2021-08/WCD_YourLife_CoalitionFramework.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
5 Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Unintended Pregnancy (2021). Available via https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/unintendedpregnancy/index.html (Last accessed August 2021)
6 The Economic Effects of Contraceptive Access: A Review of the Evidence Factsheet (IWPR #B381) Available via https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Contraception-fact-sheet_final.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
7 Sonfield A et al.,The Social and Economic Benefits of Women’s Ability to Determine Whether and When to Have Children, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2013. Available via https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/social-economic-benefits.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
8 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). Family Planning and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Data Booklet. (ST/ESA/ SER.A/429). Available via https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/family/familyPlanning_DataBooklet_2019.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
9 March of Dimes, Birth Spacing and Birth Outcomes Factsheet. Available via https://www.marchofdimes.org/MOD-Birth-Spacing-Factsheet-November-2015.pdf (Last accessed September 2021)
10 The Economic Effects of Contraceptive Access: A Review of the Evidence Factsheet (IWPR #B381) Available via https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Contraception-fact-sheet_final.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
11 The Economic Effects of Contraceptive Access: A Review of the Evidence Factsheet (IWPR #B381) Available via https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Contraception-fact-sheet_final.pdf (Last accessed August 2021)
12 Yazdkhasti, M., Pourreza, A., Pirak, A., & Abdi, F. (2015). Unintended Pregnancy and Its Adverse Social and Economic Consequences on Health System: A Narrative Review Article. Iranian journal of public health, 44(1), 12–21. Available via https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449999/ (Last accessed August 2021)