The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

image of Pregnosticon Planotest

Abstract

This article restores pregnancy testing to its significant position in the history of the women’s liberation movement in 1970s Britain. It shows how feminists appropriated the pregnancy test kit, a medical technology which then resembled a small chemistry set, and used it as a political tool for demystifying medicine, empowering women and providing a more accessible, less judgmental alternative to the N.H.S. While the majority of testees were young women hoping for a negative result, many others were older, menopausal women as well as those anxious to conceive. By following the practice of pregnancy testing, I show that, at the grassroots level, local women’s centres were in the vanguard of not only access to contraception and abortion rights, but also awareness about infertility and menopause.

… Many G.P.s also prescribed, on the N.H.S., Schering’s ‘Primodos,’ a ‘hormonal pregnancy test’ in tablet form that was less expensive and faster than ordering a urine test. The drug, which worked by inducing menstruation in non-pregnant women (a ‘negative’ result), was taken off the market in 1978 amidst concerns that it caused a variety of birth defects. Primodos Was a Revolutionary Oral Pregnancy Test: But Was It Safe?

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  • Featured image of the Pregnosticon Planotest credit tandfonline.

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