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CNN Today

Pill Revolution

Aired May 9, 2000 - 1:39 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Forty years ago today, a tiny pill gave women enormous power to choose. Since then, the birth control pill has been taken by hundreds of millions of women.

And, as CNN's Garrick Utley reports, it has broken new ground in society and in medicine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Long before Gloria Feldt moved to New York City to live and work, she lived, married and became a mother at age 16 in a small farming community in West Texas.

GLORIA FELDT, PRES., PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Our parents didn't talk to us about sex, and birth control, forget it. I mean, nobody would even utter those words.

UTLEY: By age 20 she had three children. That was in 1962.

FELDT: It was at that point, mercifully, that the pill entered my life. As soon as I heard about it, I knew, yes, give me that pill, give me that pill now.

UTLEY: That is what other women were demanding as the pill helped to fuel the 1960s' spirit of freedom and rebellion against tradition. Suddenly, a woman could plan a career first, and family and babies later.

From the lyrics of the new rock music to the rise of the feminist movement, "make love not war" was more than a rallying cry against authority. It echoed the belief of young men and women that in the ultimate intimacy of sex, authority resided with the individuals alone.

(on camera): And there was something else about the pill. When it was introduced, the fear of AIDS still lay 20 to 25 years in the future. That meant, for the first in human history, men and women coming of age in the 1960s and '70s, the baby boomers, could enjoy a sexual relationship free from the fear of an unwanted pregnancy or a potentially fatal disease.

(voice-over): The first oral contraceptive was then, as now, 95 to 99 percent effective. It was also much stronger than today. DR. CAROLYN WESTHOFF, COLUMBIA PRESBYTERIAN MEDICAL CENTER: When the pill was first developed, we really didn't have any idea of how small a dose would be necessary. The pill that I first took when I was a college student had a dose four times higher then the dose many young women are using today.

UTLEY: And how safe is the pill today?

WESTHOFF: The risks that we saw that were associated with stroke and heart attack were really risks that occurred with a very high dose pills, and we abandoned those almost 30 years ago already. For a long time now, we've been using really safe pills, and I wish that everybody understood how very safe they are.

UTLEY: Today, the pill is the most popular form of birth control that is reversible, three-quarters of American women of child-bearing age have used it. And what lies in the future?

WESTHOFF: I think we're going to continue to have pills, and that might be the fundamental form of hormonal contraception, but we will also see more and more hormones delivered in injections, implants, patches to wear on the skin, rings to go in the vagina, perhaps things that can be inhaled.

FELDT: I am looking at trying to do this in January or February.

UTLEY: For Gloria Feldt's work in Planned Parenthood, those new contraceptives could be important. But in her personal life, after having her three children, it was the pill that made the difference, as she thinks it has for men, as well as women.

FELDT: That aspect of what the pill has brought I think is often overlooked, simply enabling women and men to have a much more equal kind of personal relationship, and a much less stressful personal relationship.

UTLEY: But a relationship in which the woman will still bear the responsibility for avoiding pregnancy. Male hormones are proving more difficult to regulate for contraceptive purposes, and so a pill for men is still a work in progress.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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