The First Birth Control Pill Used Puerto Rican Women as Guinea Pigs


Eugenics and unethical clinical trials are part of the pill’s legacy.

It came in a brown bottle, marketed as a safe way for married women to treat menstrual disorders. But the contents of that little brown bottle were as potent as a bomb. Inside was Enovid, the world’s first birth control pill

Soon, Enovid would usher in a new era of sexual autonomy for women. It was marketed as a safe, clinically tested way to take control of reproductive health. But few women who took it then, or since, realized how complicated its birth really was.

The pill had a bright future, but its past—one intertwined with eugenics and colonialism—was fraught. Its clinical trials took place not in the mainland United States, but in Puerto Rico, where poor women were given a strong formulation of the drug without being told they were taking part in a trial or about any of the risks they’d face. Three women died during the secretive test phase—but their deaths were never investigated.