Lecture Description

Though Upjohn Company had begun manufacturing Depo Provera (medroxyprogesterone, a synthetic hormone) in 1958, it would not be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for birth control use in the United States until 1992. The heated debate over the regulation of Depo-Provera attests to the increasing complexity of contraceptive regulation in an age of biomedicine. Beginning in the 1970s, consumers demanded access to and involvement in regulatory decisions previously considered beyond their purview. Women’s health activists, newly armed with political, legal, and medical expertise, introduced new evidence to the process: patient testimonials. They thus guaranteed that women’s experiences, rather than just those of lab animals, became part of the scientific testimony presented before the Food and Drug Administration on numerous occasions. They also altered the process of risk-benefit analysis by challenging the notion of value-free, objective science. Weighing the risks and benefits of a drug, particularly one prescribed to millions of healthy patients, required not just statistics but stories, they argued. Ultimately, the ideas, experience, and actions emerging out of the women’s health movement have widened the parameters of debate surrounding the drug testing and regulation. By challenging assumptions about contraceptive drug testing on women, risk benefit analysis, and the evidence of so-called “experts,” women’s health activists have established a legacy of rights which remain with us today.


Medicine Women

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