Contraception

Thursday 5 April 1877 was an historical date as Charles Bradlaugh was arrested and charged for breaching the Obscene Publications Act 1857 for republishing the ‘Fruits of Philosophy’ which he did to “test the right of publication”, eventually resulting in greater freedom of the press and widespread dissemination of birth control literature such that the last twenty years of the 19th century witnessed birth rates falling.


Charles Bradlaugh’s sentiments were made clear in the preface,

We think it more moral to prevent the conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air and clothing.”


Did a 19th century court drama start the tumble? This article discusses the impact the Trial of Charles Bradlaugh had upon birth rates.

“The study’s authors show that this decline wasn’t random: it was most severe, and started earliest, in those English districts where the newspapers gave the most attention to the Bradlaugh-Besant trial. More media coverage of the trial meant faster fertility decline, despite the fact that virtually none of the media coverage included any discussion of actual birth-control methods.

Indeed, the main methods of birth control advised by the pamphlet didn’t actually have much scientific validity. In other words, the pamphlet didn’t really improve scientific literacy about birth control, it just changed what things people felt comfortable talking about.

By publicizing the controversy, the mass media of the day made a formerly “obscene” topic normal conversation. People could suddenly talk about birth control and fertility limitation. Even if the specific contraceptive methods being publicized didn’t work, people understood the mechanics of how babies are made, and they could use various strategies to avoid conceiving.

ARTICLE : ‘What makes people have babies? The link between cultural values and fertility rates.’


Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant established the Malthusian League after they were arrested and exonerated for publishing ‘Fruits of Philosophy’.

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