On this day in history : 4th December 1961 – Health Minister Enoch Powell announces in the House of Commons the decision to make the oral contraceptive pill available to British women on the National Health Service – at a subsidised cost of 2 shillings per month….

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Enoch Powell – Allan Warren CC BY-SA 3.0

Life for women in the early ’60s was very different to how we know it today…. The Victorian attitude towards sex was still prevalent…. There was a fear of pregnancy out of wedlock, as unmarried mothers were shunned by society – often being forced to give up their babies for adoption (abortion not being an option)…. Women tended to marry earlier and were usually expected to stay at home and raise a family….

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Robert Wade ‘The Modern Housewife’ via Flickr

The arrival of the pill was to change all that….it was to give women freedom…. A reliable, convenient oral contraceptive – meaning women had control of their own bodies and the choice of when to have a baby…. It was to become a real liberation….

However, GPs were slow on the uptake….and the Government of the time were reluctant to be seen promoting promiscuity…. The pill could only be prescribed to married women – and mainly to those who were older, already had children and did not want any more…. It was to remain this way until 1967, when finally attitudes slowly began to change….

By 1964 half a million British women were taking the pill….the birth rate began to fall – and fewer children were being put up for adoption…. In 1974 family planning clinics were given the go ahead to prescribe single women with the pill – this caused considerable controversy at the time….

Couples no longer felt the pressure to marry in order to live together…. In the early ’60s it is estimated fewer than 1 in 100 adults under the age of 50 had ever cohabited – nowadays it is 1 in 6…. Nobody bats an eye at a couple who have not ‘tied the knot’ – and the same goes for children born outside of marriage….

It is estimated 70% of women in Britain have used the pill at some stage in their lives…. Currently some 3.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 49 do so today….

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Tristanb at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

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