The Health Care System’s Control of the Reproductive Process: A Look at Doctors’ Control of Birth Control Information

Alice Wolfson’s “Health Care May Be Hazardous to Your Health” was published in the inaugural, June 1970 issue of Up From Under. In this essay, Wolfson critiques the health care system, while also educating women about their various birth control options.

During Second-Wave Feminism, women desired control over their own reproductive process. Consequently, Up From Under’s inaugural issue, published in 1970, features essays that challenge the healthcare system’s conversations about birth control. For example, in one of the essays titled “Health Care May Be Hazardous to Your Health,” author Alice Wolfson describes the healthcare system’s exploitation of women who use birth control pills. The FDA approved birth control pills for nationwide use on May 9, 1960 ( Editors). At the time of the FDA’s approval, however, the pill’s side-effects were not fully known. Wolfson warns women about their potential exploitation as guinea pigs. As she writes, “8.5 million American women taking the Pill [were] participating in the largest experiment ever conducted” (Wolfson 8). Wolfson, a pioneer of the women’s health movement, played a pivotal role in Congressional hearings that upended the healthcare system’s deceit about birth control. The hearings began in 1970 when U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson challenged the pharmaceutical industry after reading Barbra Seaman’s book titled The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill (“Senate Hearings on the Pill”). Seaman’s book details the safety hazards of taking “the Pill” through testimonials from physicians, medical researchers, and women who had used oral contraceptives. After witnessing the hearings, Wolfson wrote “Health Care May Be Hazardous to Your Health,” as she felt that although “the Pill hearings in Congress revealed shocking facts about the dubious safety of these drugs,” many women remained uninformed by their doctors (Wolfson 8). Here, she highlights that the system retained control by withholding information from patients. Additionally, in her critique of the healthcare system, Wolfson underlines doctors’ control over abortions, further highlighting women’s lack of control over their own reproductive health. Prior to Roe v Wade (1973), abortions were illegal. In an exaggerated statistic, Wolfson explains the implications of abortion’s criminalization. She proclaims “if the D.C. General had performed the service the women wanted, there would have been 4,000 abortions [of the 5,000 babies delivered in 1968] instead of the seven actually completed” (Wolfson 9). Although Wolfson may exaggerate the number of abortions, a 1965 study conducted by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America suggests that in their sample of 889 women, a total of 74 women “said that they attempted to abort one or more pregnancies; of these, 31 reported the attempt successful” (Polgar 125). Women were consistently denied abortions. Yet, not only did society deny women abortions, they, also, did not provide adequate access to information about contraceptives. Without information, knowledge, or access to their options, mothers and women alike remained at the mercy of a flawed system.


Albert, Marilyn, et al., editors. Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 1, 1970, pp. 1–57.

Wolfson, Alice. “Giving Birth in Dignity .” Up From Under , vol. 1, no. 1, 1970, pp. 6-10.

“Senate Hearings on the Pill.” PBS, WGBH Educational Foundation, Editors. “FDA Approves ‘The Pill.’”, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010,

Polgar, Steven, and Ellen S Fried. “The Bad Old Days: Clandestine Abortions Among the Poor in New York City Before Liberalization of the Abortion Law.” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 8, no. 3, 1976, pp. 125–127.



“The Complete Mother Unit”: A Look at Society’s Expectations for Mothers

Abby Waddell’s untitled poem was published in Up From Under’s September 1970 issue. This poem describes a woman’s inner self-image, which contrasts that of society and her own children’s image of her.

During the Women’s Liberation Movement, women sought to reclaim their identity beyond their socially-defined role. Before the movement, women were primed to be perfect, ideal mothers. In the editorial statement of Up From Under’s September 1970 issue, the editors explain “childhood and adolescence for a girl is very much a period of training in the basic skills for the job of wife and mother. We are apprentices to our mothers. We learn, willingly or unwillingly, sooner or later, to cook, iron, shop, sew, wash dishes, floors, and clothes and take care of children” (Albert et al.2). Generations of women’s experiences with society’s institutions and expectations have molded this seemingly inescapable model of motherhood. In the September 1970 issue, the editors feature Abby Waddell’s untitled poem, which satirizes society’s model of a perfected motherhood. Waddell describes:

I, myself, was walking
double jointed, head
a balloon with a string tied to shoulders …
And my children the darlings, Who did they see?
All in one piece, the complete mother unit,
Familiar old model, a toasted cheese sandwich,
efficient their mother,
Me (Waddell 48)

Here, Waddell highlights the complexity of motherhood: while outwardly the mother conforms to societal expectations, inwardly she feels completely different. As a mother, she has a duty she is expected to fulfill. According to society’s definition, mothers must efficiently raise the next generation of workers. Because of an expectation for their mother’s efficiency and perfection, children see their mothers “all in one piece, the complete mother unit, familiar old model.” Mothers portray this perfected version of motherhood. As a consequence of this portrayal, they must limit their own personality, which they may never have the opportunity to express. A woman’s children inevitably become her identity. However, through the speaker’s inner thoughts, Waddell recognizes the identity of many women beyond their societally-defined title. Therefore, Waddell and other feminist poets strive to remind women that they are more than mothers. These poets invigorate women to develop beyond their title of mother and explore more freedoms. They argue women can have children, raise them, and enjoy them, but they can also simultaneously develop themselves.


Albert, Marilyn, et al., editors. Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 2, 1970, pp. 1–69.

Waddell, Abby. “Untitled.” Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 2, 1970, pp. 48-48.

“I Never Asked to Be a Slave”: A Look at Mothers’ Sacrifices

Published in Up From Under‘s February 1971 issue, Robin Morgan’s “The 2 A.M. Feeding” highlights a mother’s struggle with a newborn child. In this poem, Morgan describes the heterosexual socially-defined roles that constrain women.

During Second-Wave Feminism, feminists, especially feminist poets, questioned familial responsibilities defined by heterosexual roles. Prior to the Women’s Liberation Movement, society restructured the family unit to meet its capitalistic needs, making the sphere of domesticity inescapable. In the editorial statement of Up From Under’s February 1971 issue, the editors discuss these capitalistically-defined family roles that the movement hopes to change. As the editors describe “a man must meet the society’s need for a worker, which leaves him little time or energy to meet the emotional needs of a woman or children. The women’s role is to meet the man’s needs and the children’s needs” (Albert et al.4). The woman must come home to perform laborious house work and support her husband and children. On the other hand, her husband is expected to provide the financial support for his family, leaving him no time to nurture his children and support his wife. In the February 1971 issue, the editors feature Robin Morgan’s “The 2 A.M. Feeding,” which analyzes the implications of these roles. Opening the poem, the speaker bemoans “you never asked to be a master and, God knows…that I never asked to be a slave” (Morgan 36). Here, she addresses her husband as she describes the consequences of their societally-defined role. Even though her husband did not define the roles himself, he still remains in control. The speaker lives at the mercy of her husband and children’s desires. She bewails, “I need to sleep. I never asked for this; you never asked. Our twenty-five inch son whimpers in the night and my breasts hurt until I wake myself and feed him” (Morgan 36). A mother must prioritize the needs of her children in the way a father does not need to prioritize them. She has responsibilities that her husband cannot help her with, but these responsibilities are considered her duty and go unrecognized. Without a mother’s sacrifices society would not exist, yet society refused to recognize them in any tangible manner.


Albert, Marilyn, et al., editors. Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 3, 1971, pp. 1–69.

Morgan , Robin. “‘The 2 A.M. Feeding.’” Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 3, ser. 1, 1 Feb. 1971, pp. 36–36.

“Children of my own to be fed”: A Look at Working Mothers’ Responsibilities

Published in the February 1971 issue of Up From Under, Rhoda Gaye Ascher’s “Friday Night Program” establishes the struggles of a working mother. This poem highlights a mother’s state of exhaustion because of societal expectations.

The poets of the Women’s Liberation Movement unify readers through their candid recounts of their shared experiences as both a mother and a worker. In Up From Under’s second issue’s editorial statement, published in September 1970, the editors describe the struggles of women, who are mothers and workers. They state “if a woman works outside the home because of economic need she is forced to have two full-time jobs, as she still must fulfill her primary function as housewife and mother” (Albert et al. 2). In the February 1971 issue of Up From Under, the editor featured Rhoda Gaye Ascher’s poem titled “Friday Night Song,” which explores this burden. The speaker details a mother and wife’s labor following her own full day of work. She considers:

Kitchen on my own to be scrubbed so white
Children of my own to be fed
Man of my own waitin’ for me tonight
So much to say. (Ascher 24)

Ascher emphasizes that many women work full time jobs to support their family; however, unlike their husbands, they do not have the privilege of relaxation when returning home. Instead, women, particularly mothers, are expected to clean and maintain the house while also raising the children. In this piece, Ascher highlights that she must do all her household work “on my own…with my weary, weary feet” (Ascher 24). Here, she underlines her exhaustion, which her state of constant service perpetuates. Even though she returns home for the weekend, the only reprieve she receives is from her societally-approved job. Society treated motherhood and housework as women’s obligatory duties. They did not value the dedication required to raise a child and tend to a family’s needs. Yet, feminist poets, like Ascher, strive to overcome society’s failures. In their poetry, they endow recognition of a mother’s hard work. Therefore, readers, many of whom are mothers, feel heard and understood. Up From Under unites the readers, invigorating them to upend society’s disregard for mothers’ arduous experiences.


Albert, Marilyn, et al., editors. Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 2, 1970, pp. 1–69.

Ascher, Rhoda Gaye. “Friday Night Song.” Up From Under , vol. 1, no. 3, 1971, pp. 24.

The Lamaze Birthing Technique

Beth Cagan’s essay titled “Giving Birth in Dignity” begins with an image of a pregnant woman. Published in the June 1970 issue of Up From Under, this essay critiques the flawed birthing process and educates women about the revolutionary Lamaze Technique. Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze developed the Lamaze Technique in the 1950s, yet doctors hid it from the majority of women.

During Second-Wave Feminism, women sought to control the birthing process. In Up From Under’s June 1970 issue, Beth Cagan explains, in her essay “Giving Birth in Dignity,” “although pregnancy and childbirth [were] perfectly normal and healthy functions, [pregnant mothers were] treated as patients with a medical problem” (Cagan 41). Many times, if women desired a painless birth, they were given an anesthetic. Then, while the mothers were unconscious, a doctor would deliver their baby. Consequently, mothers would not know their baby’s biological sex until many hours after the doctor delivered her child (Cagan 41). Even before the baby’s delivery, doctors rarely informed mothers about details of their pregnancy “aside from vague reassurances that ‘everything will be alright’” (Cagan 42). Because of this suppression of information, women were powerless in their own child’s birth. However, the Lamaze birthing technique, developed by Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze in the 1950s, revolutionized the birthing process. As Cagan describes it “the Lamaze method teaches you how to push” (Cagan 42). She goes on to describe her own experience of giving birth using this method: “with my knees against my chest, my husband pressing against one of my feet and the nurse against the other…another small push and in marvelous relief, I felt her slither out” (Cagan 42). Cagan emphasizes the control the Lamaze method gives her over her own childbirth experience. Yet, the Lamaze technique was hidden from the masses. Many doctors believed that the technique should not be an option for the majority of women. As Cagan explains “there are very few obstetricians in this country who encourage prepared childbirth. Doctors will often state that only ‘intellectual’ women can successfully have children this way” (Cagan 42). Male doctors, who dominated the medical field, diminished women’s capabilities and treated them as if they were incapable of making their own decisions. The healthcare community, much like the rest of society, dismissed women and mothers.

In the June 1971 issue of Up From Under, the editors wrote and published an educational essay titled “The Ideal Gynecological Examination.” In this essay, they delve into all aspects of a gynecological examination, preparing women for this procedure.

Up From Under educates its readers about the reproductive process, hoping to empower them to challenge the healthcare system. Through pieces like “Health Care May Be Hazardous to Your Health” and “Giving Birth in Dignity,” the periodical informs readers about the medical field’s various birth control and childbirth options. Additionally, Up From Under features pieces that discuss reproductive anatomy. In these pieces, they discuss female anatomy and its function in daily life, and more specifically childbirth. For example, in their June 1971 issue of Up From Under, the editors collectively wrote an essay titled “The Ideal Gynecological Exam.” In this piece they guide women through a gynecological exam, describing what women should consider, question, expect, and remember when receiving a gynecological exam (Up From Under editors). By educating women and mothers, Up From Under allows them to demand respect from society as the system can no longer retain control by withholding information. By presenting the topics of pregnancy and birth control in an educational format, the topics become more approachable. Through education, the editors found ways to empower women. For example, by educating her readers, Cagan redefines childbirth, replacing the “ignorance and shame that normally accompany pregnancy and childbirth with knowledge and self-awareness” (Cagan 42). Furthermore, Up From Under’s distribution of critical works across the country provided the impetus for women to demand access to healthcare that respects motherhood’s challenges.


Cagan, Beth. “Giving Birth in Dignity .” Up From Under , vol. 1, no. 1, 1970, pp. 39–42.

Up From Under Editors. “The Ideal Gynecological Exam .” Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 5, ser. 1, 1 June 1971, pp. 19–21. 1.


Second-Wave Feminist’s Call for Free, Universal Child Care

Vicki Breitbart and Beverly Leman’s “The Women Who Take Care of Children: Why Child Care” was published in the January 1971 issue of Up From Under. This educational essay highlights the benefits of universal, free childcare.

Second-Wave feminists urged society to share the responsibility of motherhood with women. Prior to the movement, society shamed women for their desire to be more than mothers. By refusing any support for mothers, society kept women in their socially-defined role. Second-Wave feminists quickly realized for women to gain any freedoms, not only would they have to realize their strength, but also society would have to change with them. In the editorial statement of the February 1971 issue, Up From Under’s editors discuss the paradigm shifts required to change the narrative around motherhood. They explain “society has a responsibility to provide universal, free childcare” (Albert et al. 4). Universal, free childcare is child care accessible to all families with children younger than school age. In this issue of Up From Under, the editors feature essays that expand on the importance and implications of universal childcare. For example, in their article titled “The Women Who Take Care of Children: Why Child Care,” Vicki Breitbart and Beverly Leman proclaim “our very important step toward realizing ourselves and closing the gap between our duties and desires is free, universal child care…it is a step toward erasing the idea that if others care for our children it is some sort of personal failure” (Breitbart et al. 6). Feminists urge society to give all women access to childcare, allowing mothers to prioritize something other than the needs of their family and children. Free universal childcare would empower women to explore their identity beyond motherhood. Additionally, in the essay, they emphasize that free universal child care would promote society’s success (Breitbart et al. 7). Women could more easily contribute to the workforce, while also, raising their children –the next generation of workers. Through the creation of universal childcare, society could share the responsibility of motherhood, and, also, create a more successful economy.

The New York Times featured Claire Cain Miller’s “How Other Nations Pay for Childcare. The U.S. Is an Outlier.” on October 6, 2021. This article discusses a modern look on accessibility to childcare. Also, it highlights the benefits of childcare in a COVID-19 world.

Although Second-Wave Feminism vehemently advocated for universal childcare, even today, the United States still does not adequately support families. In Claire Cain Miller’s New York Times article, published on October 6, 2021, titled “How Other Nations Pay for Child Care. The U.S. Is an Outlier.,” she highlights the modern child care problems. In the article, Miller features Elizabeth Davis’s comment about spending on child care in the 21st century. Davis, an economist studying child care at the University of Minnesota, states “we as a society, with public funding, spend so much less on children before kindergarten than once they reach kindergarten yet the science of child development shows how very important investments in the youngest ages are, and we get societal benefits from those investments” (qtd. in Miller). Even today, the United States does not provide access to child care. Not only does this problem perpetuate women’s subjugation to house work and child care, but also it prevents children from developing skills they will need for success in future schooling and work. Miller explains “studies in the United States have also found that subsidized child care and preschool increase the chance that mothers keep working, particularly low-income women” (Miller). Many families rely on the incomes of both parents. Without access to adequate, free child care, women many times stay home, leaving their families without this integral source of income. The cycle of a limiting motherhood continues, affecting low-income women more than anyone else. Although the US has increased accessibility to child care in some ways, it still does not do enough.



Albert, Marilyn, et al., editors. Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 3, 1970, pp. 1–57.

Breitbart, Vicki, and Beverly Leman. “‘The Women Who Take Care of Children: Why Child Care.’” Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 3, ser. 1, 1 Feb. 1971, pp. 10–14.

Miller, Claire Cain. “How Other Nations Pay for Child Care. The U.S. Is an Outlier.” The New York Times: The Upshot , NYTimes , 6 Oct. 2021, Accessed 11 Dec. 2021.