Wendy Kline, Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine at Purdue University, is internationally recognized for her scholarship in the history of medicine, history of women's health and the history of childbirth. She is the author of three major books: Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth (2019); Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave (2010); and Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (2001). Her current project, “Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry,” has been funded by a six-month research fellowship from the British Academy. She served as historical consultant and speaker featured in “The Eugenics Crusade,” 2-hour documentary, PBS American Experience series, which premiered October, 2018.
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.