The Birth of a Revolutionby June Owatari April 1, 2015
October celebrated the release of Jonathan Eig’s “The Birth of the Pill,” a book about four rebels – feminist Margaret Sanger, Catholic doctor John Rock, Jewish scientist Gregory Pincus and philanthropist Katharine McCormick – who went against the mainstream to develop an oral contraceptive that eventually helped countless women take control of their reproductive health.
For Eig, “The Birth of the Pill” is a departure from his previously published works. Although also historical nonfiction and biographical in nature, Eig’s books have focused on Al Capone, Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson. So why the interest in women’s reproductive systems?
“I wanted to push myself,” Eig says. “I don’t want to be hemmed in by the preconceived notions about what a guy should write about.”
He also found the story more complicated than his other publications, as he had to intertwine four different main “characters,” with nearly eight decades of history (though he mentions that “all the action” occurred in a span of seven years). Further complicating the matter, Eig is not a scientist.
“So I had to really work hard to understand the chemistry and biology.”
Eig also wanted – needed – to be sensitive to women, who were obviously most effected by the advent of the birth control pill. He admits that before his research, he didn’t really think much about the truly revolutionary conesquences of the pill.
“I know very progressive women in my life: my wife and mother, my friends…but I took birth control for granted,” Eig says. “I didn’t think about it as a factor that so powerfully changed the world.”
So what brought it to his attention? In an interview with Salon, Eig talks about his rabbi who gave a sermon about the pill, saying it was the most important invention of the 20th century. He wanted to know if his rabbi was right.
So starts Eig’s journey.
“Being Jewish really makes you ask questions,” he says. “As you study, you have to analyze and not just accept the rules. You have to challenge authority and not just accept the easy answers.”
In fact, he thinks that scientist Gregory Pincus may have driven himself to develop the pill as a way to challenge the status quo.
“I think that was rooted in his Jewishness.”
Plus, Eig says about his research, “I was curious.”
So for four years, Eig put his head down, researched, and ultimately wove together a story of four brave people who changed women’s lives.
Now that the book has been released, he’s been speaking at events and visiting bookstores and colleges, which he enjoys.
When he’s working on a book, he says, “I feel like I’m off an island,” so the promotional blitz is a welcome relief. Besides, “I like talking about the books and answering questions.”
Part of that blitz was the San Diego Jewish Book Fair last November, where he discussed his just-released book at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.
It was at the Book Fair that Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest approached Eig to be the keynote speaker at their 52nd Anniversary Dinner on April 7. Hosted at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the dinner will help support Planned Parenthood’s mission to provide access to reproductive health care.
Since birth control is such an integral part of that reproductive care – whether it be defending women’s to access it (especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision) or educating about proper use – Planned Parenthood is closely tied to the revolution that Eig charts in his book.
“The audience will know the history,” Eig says, so his talk won’t focus on that, “but the pill was really a story about rebellion, about people taking chances on something the world didn’t want them to do, about standing up for what they believed in.”
He feels that Planned Parenthood and their supporters will understand that.
“The fight is still going on,” he says, and donors are an integral component to the fight. Just look at Katharine McCormick, who funded the pill research and eventually left millions to several feminist and medical causes after her death. “Someone had to write the check,” he says. Without this incredible commitment from McCormick, Eig says, the pill never would have come to be.
“You can make a difference,” Eig says. “A handful of people can change the world.”
Learn more about the Planned Parenthood annual dinner and how you can support at plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-pacific-southwest/.