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Family Planning in the 1960s

Family Planning in the '60s

A half-sibling for Sally Draper? Not quite yet. In episode three of Mad Men season six, we find out that Megan Draper had a miscarriage after accidentally becoming pregnant. Megan explains she was careless with taking her pill while on vacation in Hawaii, in part due to the time change. Once she confesses the unintended pregnancy to Don, they have a family-planning conversation that would not seem out of place today. Thanks to the pill, which came out in 1960, married couples could time their families like never before, and women like Megan could continue to pursue a career after walking down the aisle — so long as they remembered to take it.

"Everyone knows what the pill is. It is a small object — yet its potential effect upon our society may be even more devastating than the nuclear bomb." So read "The Pill and the Teen-Age Girl," a Reader's Digest article by author Pearl S. Buck from 1968, the same year the current season of Mad Men is set. While many social conservatives blamed the pill for the promiscuity of young unmarried women, 10 years before the pill was approved, half of unmarried women were sexually active anyway. Elaine Tyler May, author of 2010's America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, argues that it's not clear how the pill impacted the sexual revolution, but it is certain it led to a revolution in marriage. In the '60s, it was extremely difficult to get a prescription for the pill if you were not married. Yes, some women worked around this by wearing fake engagement rings to the doctor's office, but in many states it was illegal to give the pill to unmarried women. By allowing married women — the vast majority of women who had access to the pill — to plan families around desired career or educational goals, May says, the true legacy of the pill was more equality in marriage.

As for abortion, it was illegal in New York and much of the country for the entire '60s. (New York state passed a law legalizing abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade.) A pregnant woman could find a doctor to perform an abortion illegally, but that often came with dangerous risks. Thus, in the 1960s the pill was the safest and most effective way to plan families after marriage.

Image Source: AMC
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