Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this website. Please upgrade your browser

Formal birth control services for married women

The first birth control clinic was founded in London in 1921, following campaigns by the National Birth Control Council (NBCC).

In July 1930, a Ministry of Health circular permitted local health authorities (LHAs) to provide birth control advice for married women through voluntary organisations that ran family health clinics, but only under circumstances where a further pregnancy would be detrimental to the health.

Later developments

Following the introduction of the NHS, formal family planning services were not initially provided. However, GPs and other health professionals offered contraceptive advice, including the fitting of diaphragms and the prescription of the pill when it became available in 1961.

At the time, the minister of health stated that it was up to the GP to decide, on medical grounds, who should receive the pill, implying that this decision should be made regardless of marital status. It should be noted, however, that the education of medical students regarding contraception remained inconsistent throughout the 1950s. Only five out of 21 medical schools offered lectures on the subject.

Further to this, according to one survey of GPs conducted in 1961, less than 50% believed that contraceptive advice should be a part of the services they provided. With the introduction of the pill and changes in societal attitudes, LHA-funded family health clinics were first explicitly allowed to give contraceptive advice to unmarried women, on both medical and social grounds, in 1967.

In 1974, the enactment of the NHS Reorganisation Act 1973 introduced, for the first time, a requirement for family planning services to be formally provided on the NHS.


A history of family planning service factsheet.
FPA; 2011.

House of Commons.
Birth Control Pills.
HC Deb 04 December 1961 vol 650 cc922-3.

House of Commons.
National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973: 1973 Chapter 32.
legislation.gov.uk; 1973.

Marks LV.
Sexual chemistry: a history of the contraceptive pill.
Yale University Press; 2010.