Fuel for the fire : law and capitalism in the birth control movements

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Balz, John Paul

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This thesis investigates the subject of birth control in the first half of the 20th century, specifically as it pertains to law, business and social activism. Courts during this period handled questions about birth control distribution with regularity. The birth control social movement pursued what it considered a promising a judicial strategy between 1918-1936, culminating in a decision that overturned 50 years of federal contraceptive prohibitions on distribution. The movement believed courts would help further its goals of establishing medically controlled birth control clinics and distributing female contraceptive diaphragms. Using a political economic perspective, this thesis argues that court decisions actually hindered specific social movement goals by fostering a market system filled with competing contraceptive options. Entrepreneurs and consumers, not activists and doctors, bore primarily responsibility for the development of birth control options. By 1950, a male contraceptive, the condom, was by far the most lucrative and popular device. This rise to dominance was no accident. It was one of birth control law’s unintended consequences


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