John Rock was an American gynecologist who dedicated his career to both infertility treatment and promoting the acceptance of birth control. He is widely known as the inventor of the first hormonal birth control pill.
Dr. Rock was a pioneer in in vitro fertilization and sperm freezing, and became known in his time as a ground-breaking infertility specialist. Throughout his career, he was also deeply affected by witnessing the suffering that many women experienced due to unwanted pregnancies, and in the 1930s founded a clinic to teach women the “rhythm method”.
A devout Catholic, Rock risked excommunication by the Church, as well as his professional reputation, to sign a petition with 15 other prominent Boston physicians urging the repeal of a Massachusetts law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. He was the only Catholic doctor to sign.
Two decades later, funded by birth control activist (and disruptive woman!) Margaret Sanger, Rock led successful clinical trials of the first hormonal contraceptive, “Enovid”, which was put on the market in 1957 as a menstrual regulator. In 1960 Enovid was approved by the FDA specifically as a method of birth control, an event that changed countless women’s lives and altered the course of history.
Rock promoted the pill not only as a birth control but as a cure for problems like irregular cycles and painful menstrual symptoms, in part to gain the Church’s acceptance of the pill. Today, doctors also prescribe it for other reasons, including protection against bone thinning, benign breast growths, and certain types of ovarian cancer and cysts. But it was Rock’s commitment to providing the pill as an effective method of birth control that brought him notoriety in his lifetime, and brought us the ability to make our own reproductive choices.