John Rock (scientist)

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John Rock
BornMarch 24, 1890
DiedDecember 4, 1984 (aged 94)
Known forCombined oral contraceptive pill

John Rock (March 24, 1890 – December 4, 1984) was an American obstetrician and gynecologist. He is best known for the major role he played in the development of the first birth control pill, colloquially called "the pill".

Early life and career[edit]

Rock was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University Medical School in 1918 and founded his own medical practice a few years later.[1] Rock and his wife raised five children.[2]

Rock was a pioneer in in vitro fertilization and sperm freezing. He helped many of his patients achieve pregnancy and became known as a "ground-breaking infertility specialist."[1]

As his career progressed, Rock also became known for his acceptance of birth control. (Birth control was illegal in Massachusetts until the 1965 Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut.) In the 1930s, he founded a clinic to teach the rhythm method, the only birth control conditionally regarded as moral by the Catholic Church at the time. In 1931, Rock was the only Catholic physician to sign a petition to legalize birth control. In the 1940s, he taught at Harvard Medical School—and included birth control methods in his curriculum. Rock also coauthored a birth control guide for the general reader, titled Voluntary Parenthood and published in 1949.[1]

Pill development and promotion[edit]

In 1951 and 1952, Margaret Sanger arranged for funding for Gregory Pincus's research of hormonal contraception. In 1952, John Rock was recruited to investigate clinical use of progesterone to prevent ovulation. In 1955, the team announced successful clinical use of progestins to prevent ovulation.[2] Enovid, the brand name of the first pill, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and put on the market in 1957 as a menstrual regulator. In 1960, Enovid gained approval from the FDA for contraceptive use.[3]

Rock was 70 years old when Enovid was approved for contraceptive use.[1][2] Over the next eight years, Rock campaigned vigorously for Roman Catholic approval of the pill. He published a book, The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor's Proposals to End the Battle over Birth Control, and was subsequently featured in Time Magazine and Newsweek, and gave a one-hour interview to NBC.[2] In 1958, Pope Pius XII declared that use of the pill to treat menstrual disorders was not contrary to Catholic morals. Rock believed it was only a matter of time before the Catholic Church approved its use as a contraceptive.

In 1968 the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae laid out definitively Catholic opposition to hormonal and all other artificial means of contraception. Rock was profoundly disappointed. Consequently, he withdrew from the Church that he loved so much. (John Rock (1963). "The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor's Proposals to End the Battle Over Birth Control".)

Although it has been claimed by some journalists that Rock was to blame for adding "unnecessary" breaks in use of the pill (instructing one week of taking placebo sugar pills every month), Jane Dickson of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of RCOG stated in an interview that there were many more reasons for a placebo period, including as a recovery period from the then high dosage of hormones from the pill, and as reassurance that in having menstrual flow (although it was not a true period) one was not pregnant. [4]


  1. ^ a b c d American Experience (2001). "People & Events: Dr. John Rock". The Pill. PBS. Retrieved November 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "Birth control pioneer born". Mass Moments. 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2009., which cites:
    McLaughlin, Loretta (1982). The pill, John Rock, and the church: the biography of a revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-56095-2.
  3. ^ Junod SW, Marks L (2002). "Women's trials: the approval of the first oral contraceptive pill in the United States and Great Britain". J Hist Med Allied Sci. 57 (2): 117–60. doi:10.1093/jhmas/57.2.117. PMID 11995593. S2CID 36533080.
  4. ^ Ewens, Hannah; Hollenbeck, Corissa (January 22, 2019). "The Truth About the 'Pope Rule' and the Seven Day Contraceptive Pill Gap".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]