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Politics & Society

THE PILL/ A Forgotten Experimentation in Puerto Rico

Enovid, “The Pill”, was experimented on poor and uneducated women in Puerto Rico, resulting in sterilizations, induced miscarriages, abortions and physically deformed babies. It would be interesting if the media were to research what happened back then and who was responsible for what.  


Last week’s cover article in Time magazine was about the fiftieth anniversary of the birth-control pill “Enovid” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 9, 1960. Enovid was manufactured by the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co. Today people speak of it simply The Pill, and it has become the symbol of the dramatic social changes brought about, associated with, facilitated, or promoted by the widespread use of easy artificial contraception.

I was still at the University at the time, and not really interested in the controversy ignited by the Federal approval of The Pill, until it became a fierce political battle back home in Puerto Rico, where I am from. I found last week’s article in Time important, well researched and written. However, the reference to the political clash in Puerto Rico is far from adequate and misses its most important point.

The issue in Puerto Rico was not simply about contraception. The issue was about the experimentation to which poor and uneducated women were submitted without their knowledge as part of the experimental use of The Pill, resulting in induced miscarriages and sterilization. It was done in Puerto Rico because it was an American territory in which US citizens have no vote on the formulation of the Federal legislation that must be obeyed by all US citizens. It was (and many say that it still is) in fact a colony of the United States far removed from the attention of those living in the 50 States.

This experimentation was allegedly financed by the pharmaceutical industry and private Foundations promoting programs of population control, and had the approval of both the US and the Puerto Rican governments, who saw it as essential to combat poverty, especially in the underdeveloped world.

The Governor of Puerto Rico at that time was Luis Munoz Marin, the first governor elected by the Puerto Rican people, considered by many as the “George Washington” of Puerto Rico. Munoz Marin was widely popular among the people, re-elected again and again. He was founder of the Popular Democratic Party (the “populares,”) mostly associated with the mainland Democratic Party. He and the “populares” had created what they claimed was a new political status for Puerto Rico, the “Free Associated State” or “Estado Libre Asociado” (ELA) in Spanish, claiming that it offered the advantages of both independence and statehood. (In English it was called the “Commonwealth” status, a vague term that can be applied to different political arrangements, and perhaps chosen for that very reason.)