It will soon be fifty years since the publication of the Encyclical Humanae vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, a moment that invites us to speak and write extensively about his doctrine and also the encyclical’s impact inside and outside of the Catholic Church. It is often said that the encyclical is one of the major milestones in the history of the Church, as well as in the history of contraception. The fiftieth anniversary of the encyclical is a worthy occasion to learn about or remember the history of birth control.

Numerous books and articles recount the general history of contraception, or describe its most salient episodes and characters. The vast majority of them are written in an epic key: as they tell it, the story is an epic and its actors were heroes or heroines who overcame the tenacious and stubborn prejudices with which society, religion and the medical establishment had rejected contraception.

This lavishly favorable literature needs to be balanced by a critical history, not simply antagonistic and reactionary, like many of those published by those who oppose contraception. Instead, it requires a well-documented account of little-known or silenced facts, of shedding more light on the activities and mentalities of the birth control movement. These are episodes that happened almost exclusively in the United States, which makes sense, since the terms with which we denominate contraception originated there. It was in the United States that a strong campaign to promote birth control first appeared and the first contraceptive pill was developed and approved.

On this site and on companion websites we will publish short summaries of the chapters that make up the book, which carries the title, A Critical History of Contraception. The chapters recount little-known episodes, some unpublished, some silenced, ranging from the creation of the term “contraception” to the work report of the medical-biological section of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Family, Population and Birth.

In the bringing this work to fruition I have been joined by various members of the faculty of my University with whom I have been sharing, over time, the findings and problems that arose in the course of the investigation. I refer especially to Professors Pilar León Sanz (Professor of the  History of Medicine), José María Pardo Sáenz (Professor of Moral Theology) and Jokin de Irala (Professor of Preventive Medicine). My most sincere gratitude goes to them and to all those who have contributed to this project.

Below we present the contents of the chapters and sections of the book that will be inserted in this page of Internet. Each of them will be preceded by a brief summary, which condenses the main contributions of the section or chapter.


Chapter I. The Origins Of Modern Contraception: Three Terms And Three Attitudes

  1. The origin of the term “contraceptive” (E.B. Foote Jr., 1886)
  2. The origin of the term “birth control” (M. Sanger, 1914)
  3. Origin of the term “prevention” (W.J. Robinson, 1918)

Chapter II. The First Contraception And Its Incompatibility With Abortion

  1. E.B. Foote Jr.: contraceptives and abortion
  2. M. Sanger: control of births is incompatible with abortion
  3. W.J. Robinson: prevention and abortion

Chapter III. The Medical Profession Before Contraception: From Rejection To Acceptance

  1. Introduction: Institutional contempt for contraception
  2. The complex history of rejection: from 1912 to 1937
  3. The resolution of 1937
  4. What happened to the 1937 resolution?
  5. Motivations behind the 1937 resolution
  6. Ethical criticism

Chapter IV. Catholic Doctors And The Resolutions Of The AMA On Contraception

  1. Catholic doctors in the 1936 Committee
  2. Catholic doctors in the Committee of 1937
  3. Reaction of Catholics (doctors, moral theologians and pastors) to the decision of the AMA of 1937

Chapter V. Jurists Approve Abortifacient Contraception

  1. Introduction
  2. Subsection 7 of Article 230.3 on Abortion and Related Offenses, of the Model Penal Code of the American Institute of Law (ALI)
  3. The reasons why the ALI legally underestimates the preimplantation embryo

Chapter VI. Changing The Words To Change Minds

  1. Introduction
  2. A fleeting antecedent of the new terminology: Velpeau and Meigs
    • An intuition of Velpeau
    • Meigs: a more firm and radical vision
    • The echoes of the Meigs concept
  3. Acclimation to change: the “physiological control of fertilization”
  4. A new terminology for post-fertilization contraception is born
  5. Terminological change is authoritatively imposed

Chapter VII. The Medical-Biological In The Papal Commission For The Study Of The Problems Of The Family, Population And Birth

  1. A brief historical synthesis of the Papal Commission
  2. The medico-biological in the sessions of the Pontifical Commission
    • Affirmation of the value of human life and exclusion of abortion
    • The possible abortifacient effect of certain contraceptives
    • Doubts about the abortifacient effect in sessions of the COP
    • The abortifacient effect in the final documents of the CP
  3. The General Relatio
  4. The Final Report
  5. The Majority Report
  6. The Minority Report
  7. Did the Pontifical Commission fulfill the task requested by the Pope?

Chapter VIII. Protagonists In The Shadows

  1. Alan Parkes and the simile of the chicken egg
  2. Edward C. Hughes and obstetric-gynecological terminology
  3. Hayes and the “reproductive act”
  4. Raymond Holden and do not limit the freedom of the doctor in contraception

Chapter IX. Scientific Research On Contraception: The Power Ethos And The Zoological Ethos

  1. The ethics of biomedical research in the mid-twentieth century
  2. Mastery mentality in contraceptive research
  3. The zoological mentality of some researchers of contraception