A Very Brief History of the Big Little Pill:
• Oral contraceptive was introduced in May 1950
• The 1950’s: a time of very little choice for women
• The pill was initially marketed for “cycle control:”; socially, legally, and politically,
contraception was taboo
• In Canada, under the 1892 Criminal code any discussion of birth control was illegal and
was considered obscene
• Illegal to discuss contraception or prescribe the pill for contraception until 1969, when
the Canadian parliament decriminalized contraception
• Only married women could be prescribed the pill for birth control
• Physicians could prescribe hormones for any reason other than birth control (eg.
menstrual irregularity). If they prescribed the pill for birth control they were breaking the
• Safety concerns were raised as early as 1934
• Public trust of medicine was shattered by the self-determination envisioned in the
• Public trust in the medical world was shaken again in 1974 by the dangers discovered
after marketing the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device
• Implants were on the market in Canada only from 1991 to 2000
• Politics of the body.
• Reproductive Justice.
• Sexual Sterilization Act.
• Unsafe Abortion.
• Bill C-150.
• Morgentaler Decision.
• The issue of reproduction must be broadened; more than abortion and birth control; the
politics of the body
• Politics of the body: the right of wo/men to control their own bodies within a variety of
contexts: social, legal and medical and political.
• Denying women the right to control their own bodies is a denial of basic rights
• The politics of the body has been central to feminism and the achieving rights for women
• The right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe
and healthy environments
• Human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of
government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s
decisions • A shift for women from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice to a
broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.
• RJ addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities
that we have to control our reproductive destiny
• Options for making choices have to be safe, affordable and accessible
• RJ emerged from groups representing women colour and indigenous women; has gone
further by addressing inequalities in access, advocating for health service provision to
traditionally marginalized communities.
• Gaining control over our own bodies has been a central concern of the women’s
• We are embodied subjects and we are confronted by this embodiment daily.
• Wide range of fronts women have struggled to regain or maintain control over their
o Medical establishment
o Pharmaceutical companies
o Institutionalized censorship
• Control over our bodies’ reproductive capacities has been close to the centre of feminism
• Reproductive capacities are not just stopping/preventing pregnancy, but achieving
• Roach Pierson writes, “for example, women with disabilities and lesbians have had to
fight for the right to have or adopt a baby. Race, poverty, disability and/or unmarried
status can rend women vulnerable to involuntary sterilization” (1995, p. 102).
• Evident is the assumption that only a married, heterosexual, able bodied white woman is
the ideal mother.
• Canada has a history of sterilizing those women seen unfit to be mother and men unfit to
• Women, first nations, young and those with mental/physical differences were
• March 21, 1928, sexual sterilization act.
• Forced sterilization of inmates in mental hospitals as well as extending to those deemed
“unfit to procreate”
• Consent was not always obtained by the victims/patients.
The Sterilization of Leilani Muir (NFB):
Answer the following questions as we watch the film: 1. Who were potential targets of the Alberta government’s Forced Sterilization Act of
1928? (Pay attention to: race, class, ability).
2. History and role of eugenics theory in Alberta’s official policy of forced sterilization:
3. Eugenics & forced sterilization in the US (year, impetus, support, im