Risky hormones, birth defects and the business of pregnancy testing, Part II

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Jesse Olszynko-Gryn continues to explore the relationship between pregnancy testing and birth defects in the 20th century. To read Part One of Jesse’s work, click here

In 1982, a special report in The American Journal of Nursing warned that information on the safety of ‘drugs for two in pregnancy’ was ‘scanty, hard to find and often not up to date.’ The Physicians’ Desk Reference was ‘stuffed full of the unhelpful disclaimer “the safety of drug X in human pregnancy has not been established.”’ The placenta was not a ‘barrier’, but a ‘sieve’, so only ‘medically indicated’ and ‘relatively safe’ drugs ought to be given to pregnant women. ‘No sex hormone’, it seemed, was considered ‘safe during pregnancy’; all should be avoided.[1]

Then, as now, concerns around sex hormones and birth defects focused primarily on the systemic use of synthetic estrogens and progestogens in oral contraception and the prevention of miscarriage. The previously widespread use of oral pregnancy tests, a third major source of concern, had, in 1982, recently ceased in most ‘developed’ countries.

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