Celebrating Mexico’s Contributions to the Birth Control Pill

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. We’re celebrating by shining the spotlight on Mexico’s role in developing the birth control pill, one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the 20th century.


Humanity cannot fully unlock its potential until we release the bonds of oppression from all marginalized groups.


Underneath the surface of a large swath of Southern Mexico’s jungles lay the enormous roots of a wild yam, Dioscorea composita, known locally as barbasco. Mostly it was considered a nuisance, as it could get in the way of subsistence agriculture, but it did have its uses in traditional medicine — and it would change history forever when scientists figured out how to wrest valuable chemical compounds from it, a discovery that led directly to the development of the birth control pill.

Russell Marker. Image: Penn State University ArchivesIn the 1940s, hormones held an untapped potential for research, but there was no cost-effective method of producing large quantities of them — including progesterone, the Pill’s essential ingredient. An American chemist named Russell Marker set out to find a way to synthesize progesterone in abundance, hypothesizing that plants from the genus Dioscorea, which includes yams and agaves, would be a good source for starting material. After some research, he set his sights on wild-growing yams that were found only in Mexico.

Marker’s hunch brought him south of the U.S. border, where locals helped him find and gather these yams, enabling him to develop a method for synthesizing large batches of progesterone — more than had ever been in one place. When pharmaceutical companies would not invest in further research in Mexico, Marker relocated to Mexico City and put his money where his mouth was. In January 1944, he co-founded a lab named Syntex — a portmanteau of “synthesis” and “Mexico” — devoted to finagling hormones from wild Mexican yams. That yam was called barbasco by the indigenous population, and it was the industry’s choice for the raw material in hormone synthesis. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Something good is emerging from the horror that is Hurricane Harvey — a Texas clinic is offering free abortions to women affected by the storm who may have missed appointments or had their finances severely impacted. Their help will be “financial and logistical” and includes helping women travel to one of their clinics in the state. (Vice)
  • Another piece of good news? Planned Parenthood and the developers of the HPV vaccine will be recipients of one of the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine! (NY Times)
  • Betsy DeVos is probably going to ruin any progress currently being made with regard to sexual assault on school campuses. (NPR)
  • Count me as one of the black women who think it’s time for the monument of J. Marion Sims in New York to come down. He is often flatteringly referred to as the “father of modern gynecology,” but he was actually a sadistic monster who performed genital surgeries on black women (whom he purchased as slaves) without anesthesia. (Essence)
  • Anti-choice lawmakers’ attacks on abortion clinics have been sadly very effective. Fifty-six independent abortion clinics have closed over the past two years, and 145 have shut down since 2012. (Rewire)
  • Kentucky could definitely be a casualty of this trend. They could soon be the first state in the country with no abortion clinic. (Reuters)
  • Birth control is good for many things: preventing babies, regulating periods, preventing ovarian cysts, managing endometriosis … and now we learn oral contraceptives are also tied to lower rheumatoid arthritis risk! (NY Times)
  • A Texas judge temporarily blocked a law that would have banned dilation and extraction abortions in the state. (The Cut)
  • Awful news: A 10-year-old Indian rape victim gave birth after a court denied her request for an abortion. (WaPo)
  • An “activist” Ohio Supreme Court judge spoke at a pro-life event and now refuses to recuse herself from a case that could close Toledo’s only abortion clinic. (Jezebel)
  • Anti-Abortion Activists Are Using Down Syndrome Parents to Argue Against Women’s Rights (Double X)
  • More black women are using PrEP as a way to protect themselves from HIV. (Real Health Mag)

No, the Morning-After Pill Is Not the Abortion Pill

The other week, I was talking to a family member about the threats to contraception access in this country, “thanks” to our new president and his fanatical administration. He thought it was ridiculous that abortion opponents also fight tooth and nail to put obstacles in front of birth control — after all, reliable contraception prevents unintended pregnancies, which itself prevents untold abortions. It seems like a win-win for everyone, regardless of where their opinion on abortion falls.


The morning-after pill prevents pregnancy. The abortion pill ends pregnancy.


Then he said, “Of course, I understand them not wanting tax dollars going toward the morning-after pill, since that causes abortion.”

I had to stop him right there: “Nope.” A bit self-conscious of appearing to be a persnickety know-it-all, I summarized the vast differences between the morning-after pill and the abortion pill — differences that many people, even full supporters of reproductive rights, don’t understand. Opponents of abortion and contraception exploit this misunderstanding, pretending these two pills are one and the same, hoping to elicit “compromise” from “reasonable” people. Compromises that harm real people with real lives and real families. Just as women’s health opponents have been so successful at chipping away at abortion access, so too do they hope to erode access to contraception.

The morning-after pill and the abortion pill are completely different medications, used for different purposes and made up of different ingredients. Let’s look at a quick rundown of the two. Continue reading

July 11 Is UN World Population Day

The following guest post comes to us via Esteban Camarena, a graduate student at the University of Arizona. He is currently in Brazil doing field research on politics and public health policy. He can be reached at estebanc@email.arizona.edu.

The world’s population is on the way to reaching 8.6 billion people by 2030 — that’s approximately 1.1 billion more inhabitants on the planet in less than 13 years. If we break it down further, that’s 84.6 million more people per year, 7.1 million per month, 1.8 million per week, or 252,0000 people added every day, roughly.

July 11 is UN World Population Day, which aims to create awareness of population growth issues and their relation to the environment and development. With the world’s population increasing every year, the limited amount of natural resources combined with the effect of climate change hinders any country’s ability to achieve sustainable economic growth and development. As the global population continues to grow, so too does the demand for food, water, energy, and land.


An investment in women’s health is an investment in families’ economic stability and a country’s development.


The inability to meet these demands will inevitably lead to malnutrition, poverty, and conflict between nations and people. This depletion of resources would particularly affect developing countries where the greatest amount of population growth is expected; in fact, more than half of the anticipated growth will occur in Africa, followed by Asia and Latin America. Among other factors, population growth is concentrated in these developing regions due to limited or lack of access to reproductive health care, family planning services, and sex education. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • With all of the shenanigans that have transpired in North Carolina over the years (their racially discriminatory voting debacles especially), it’s nice to be able to highlight the state for doing something positive for a change. North Carolina has managed to close its black-white maternal death gap. This is amazing and so important. (Vox)
  • I’m sure we all remember (and would like to forget) the Jan Brewer era? Well, friendly reminder: Arizona Already Tried What the GOP Wants to Do to Medicaid. It Was a Disaster. (Slate)
  • Our nomination for sentence of the week: “Whatever maternity care his mother got when she was pregnant with him helped him grow into the healthy, thriving, intolerable jerkoff he is today.” HA! (XX Factor)
  • Christian crisis pregnancy centers in Illinois are suing the state because they want to keep lying to vulnerable pregnant women about their options. Let’s hope they catch the ‘L’ they deserve. (Chicago Tribune)
  • The majority of women who have abortions are already mothers. They share their stories about why they chose to terminate their pregnancies. (Elle)
  • Parents are doing a mediocre job teaching teens about love, sex, and the misogyny that permeates our culture. Eighty-seven percent of teenage girls have experienced harassment, abuse, or assault. This is not OK. (NBC News)
  • Due to the fact that we have a thin-skinned narcissist with the restraint and civility of a toddler in the White House, there are obviously A LOT of concerns about national politics. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that local politics have a much greater effect on most of our daily lives — especially for women. NARAL President Kaylie Hanson Long details why. (Think Progress)
  • Literally ALL the medical groups hate Trumpcare. Have they no compassion for the rich people who would be further enriched by GOP tax cuts?!? (NBC News)
  • Wow — a majority of GOP voters largely support Obamacare’s birth control mandate. Surprising! (The Hill)
  • While conservative politicians are doing everything within their power to ensure women have less access to birth control to prevent unintended pregnancy and less access to abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, the foster care system is bursting at the seams with child victims of the opioid crisis. I personally have spent a great deal of time looking for SOME kind of evidence that the “pro-life” politicians who seek to restrict women’s rights are also advocating somehow for these children. Unfortunately I’m at a loss. Their privileged, traditional, nuclear families aren’t fostering them. They aren’t publicly advocating for them vocally. They aren’t trying to bring about meaningful change to the foster care system. Oddly, it seems like the “pro-life” advocacy only applies to CURRENT, not former, residents of a womb. Sad. (Mother Jones)
  • Well, this is heart-wrenching and tragic: In developing nations, 214 million women want to prevent pregnancy but have no contraception. How will poverty ever be eradicated if women have no control over their fertility, limited ability to prioritize their existing children and give them better opportunities, and no meaningful path toward economic independence? (XX Factor)

STD Awareness: Do IUDs and Implants Prevent STDs?

Highly effective birth control methods, namely intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, have received a lot of well-deserved attention in recent years. They are as effective at preventing pregnancy as permanent sterilization, but can be stopped at any time, and can last from three to 12 years. They are the contraceptive of choice for female family-planning providers, who should know a thing or two about choosing an optimal birth control method. They are fantastic options for teenagers and others hoping to delay pregnancy for at least a few years. And the best news is that, for now anyway, these pricey birth control methods are still available at no cost to Americans covered by Medicaid or health insurance.


For the best protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs, combine condoms with IUDs or contraceptive implants.


If IUDs and implants prevented sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), they would pretty much be perfect — but, alas, like most forms of birth control, they don’t protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other bugs that can be passed from person to person through sex. To reduce their risk for STD exposure, sexually active people must employ other strategies, including (1) being in a mutually monogamous relationship with a person who does not have STDs; (2) being vaccinated before becoming sexually active to receive protection from hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus (HPV), two sexually transmitted viruses; and, last but definitely not least, (3) condoms, condoms, condoms!

A study published this month looked at college students using IUDs and implants and found that most of them didn’t use condoms the last time they had vaginal sex — 57 percent of women who were not using IUDs or implants used a condom, compared to only 24 percent of women who were using IUDs or implants. That’s not too surprising if pregnancy prevention were the only concern, but condoms are an important addition for anyone seeking to reduce their STD risk. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The Washington Post has a nifty graphic explaining what the Senate health care bill changes about the Affordable Care Act. FYI: It’s really just as much an abomination as the House’s crappy version. (WaPo)
  • To be clear, Planned Parenthood would be screwed out of funding if GOP numbskulls have their way. (Newsweek)
  • The Arizona State Senate has more female members, proportionally speaking, than any other state legislative body in the entire country. So why in all hells does this state still pass so much anti-woman legislation? WHY?!? (Phoenix New Times)
  • Apparently, women in many states can’t legally revoke consent if sex with a partner turns violent during the act? The failure to cease the sex when a woman says so isn’t legally “rape” according to the courts if she has already consented. Evidently, men are entitled to “finish” (ejaculate) once consent has been given and it cannot be revoked. WTF?!?! How is this real life? (Broadly)
  • Fusion has a great piece and accompanying documentary about rising maternal mortality rates among black women in the U.S. (Fusion)
  • NY Attorney General Sues Anti-Abortion Groups for Viciously Harassing Patients Outside Queens Clinic. Good. Throw.The.Book.At.These.Fools. Who else is willing to bet rent money that they are in the “so pro-life they’ve never fostered or adopted any children” crowd? A show of hands please. (Jezebel)
  • Missouri is legit taking a page out of The Handmaid’s Tale, y’all. (The Mary Sue)
  • Six experts quit the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS because they feel No. 45 “simply does not care” about the disease. Obviously, this does not bode well for HIV/AIDS treatment or research to eradicate the disease. (CNN)
  • Earlier this week, Karen Handel won the special election in Georgia. Here’s a reminder why she’s literally the absolute worst and will be no champion for women. She’s also so “pro-life” she’s never fostered or adopted any children. That puts her in good company with all the other “pro-lifers” in government. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Most sexually active teenagers in the U.S. are using contraception! Good job, kids! (Time)
  • If you’re sick of Republicans rigging elections in their favor, the possibility of SCOTUS delivering a rebuke over gerrymandering should excite you just a little bit! (WaPo)