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Journal of Social History. 1985 Spring; 18(3):399-411.The transition from resistance to acceptance of birth control in the US can be characterized as a 3 stage process, with each period facing its own issues and choices. The 1st stage -- the fight over birth control in the early 20th century -- has been documented by historians like James Reed, Linda Gordon, and David Kennedy. A 2nd stage, approximately the years from 1936-60, has not been fully explored although the period was crucial in shaping the current system of contraceptive health care. This discussion focuses on this transitional period, particularly its 1st decade, 1936-47. Physicians' attitudes, as revealed through American Medical Association (AMA) policy and a national survey conducted in 1947, are considered in relation to reported data on clinic and private practice. This evidence reveals that despite the liberalization of laws and public opinion in the mid-1930s, contraception did not become widely available until after 1960 -- the beginning of the 3rd stage in the history of American contraception -- and that the restriction of birth control information during the period was traceble in large part to the medical profession. Analysis of the 1936-47 decade, particularly with regard to the concerns of doctors, provides a framework for understanding the forces that affected contraceptive health care in the mid 20th century and suggests conditions that continue to shape the politics of birth control. In 1936, when the AMA's committee on contraception submitted its 1st report, it was clear that legal and public opinion had moved decisively toward more liberal attitudes concerning birth control. In 1937 the AMA passed a qualified endorsement of birth control, indicating that the organized medical profession as represented by the AMA held views on birth control at the beginning of the 2nd stage that were more conservative than those of most middle-class Americans. Its conservatism was challenged by lay groups who threatened to circumvent standard office practice if physicians failed to modify their views. Public opinion and behavior thus had a demonstrable effect on medical attitudes. 10 years after the AMA resolution a suvey found that more than 2/3 of physicians approved of contraception for any married women who requested it. The 1937-47 period witnessed 2 important changes in medical attitudes toward contraception: the profession's public, though cautious, endorsement of birth control; and the apparent adoption of liberalized standards for the prescription of contraceptive materials. The period also was a time of tremendous growth for the new birth control clinics that offered services to women who could not afford private care. Available evidence suggests that physicians' attitudes toward contraception, and particularly toward birth control clinics, were more important than either laws or public opinion in limiting the availability of those contraceptives considered most efficient (and most compatible with sexual pleasure) between 1936-60.
Family Planning Perspectives. 1982 Nov/Dec; 14(6):321-4.For 10 years, family planning groups have been trying to persuade the TV and radio industry that advertising nonprescriptive contraceptives would be an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of venereal diseases, particularly among teenagers. Although formal restrictions on advertising contraceptives have been removed, the networks and most local radio and TV stations still ban commercials for contraceptive products. At a time when many consumers are concerned about health risks associated with the pill and the IUD, manufacturers of condoms, foams and jellies are not motivated to pursue expensive advertising campaigns. Of the stations polled, those with audiences mainly of the age group 18 to 34 are more likely to accept contraceptive advertisement than stations with an older audience. 50% of the stations polled would not air any such ads. Most broadcasters express concern about the quality of the ads if they were used and believe that their audience does not favor them. Few people questioned believe that such an advertising campaign would have much effect on sexual activity, venereal disease or pregnancies. The National Association of Broadcasters' survey reveals that by a margin of 53 to 41%, adults oppose broadcasting contraceptive commercials. Responses indicate that TV ads are less acceptable than radio advertising. Younger adults are more likely to favor ads than older persons. Single people also favor the contraceptive commercials. Less separated or divorced people and even fewer married or widowed people find such ads acceptable. 45% of men and only 35% of women support the advertisments. 40% of whites, 50% blacks and 66% Hispanics think that contraceptive commercials should be aired.