World population growth became a major topic of international discussion after World War II and in the context of the Cold War. According to some analysts, academics, politicians, and representatives of international organizations and private foundations, the fall in birth rates was essential to avoid the depletion of natural resources and, in geopolitical terms, would stimulate economic development in the developing world and thus prevent and mitigate social conflict. This analysis gained strong support and met with some resistance. In 1968, the United Nations defined access to family planning as a human right. That same year the encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae criticized family planning programs, not only in moral terms but also in defense of personal freedoms and the sovereignty of each country. Additionally, and contrary to the expectations of a large part of the Catholic community, the document only considered natural contraceptive methods legitimate, thus creating a deep division between those who supported the contraceptive pill and those who would abide by this decision.
Studies of recent history that compare global and local dynamics, as well as new perspectives on the Cold War (in terms of the questions, sources, interpretative frameworks, and methodologies they propose), examine local organizations and the different ways in which each country negotiated and took on this issue. The United States played a key role in promoting family planning in different countries around the world and particularly in Latin America, given its geographical proximity and the anxiety caused by the success of the Cuban Revolution. In this region, the distribution of the birth control pill and the first family planning programs also sparked debates, support, and resistance at the governmental level and in different political, academic, activist, religious, and media contexts. In several countries, health professionals came together to develop family planning programs to reduce the high number of clandestine abortions in illegal contexts and their consequent effects on public health. This context also saw a budding recognition of the right women had to make decisions about their own pregnancies. The distribution of modern contraceptives was aligned with the agendas of Second Wave feminist groups, who demanded access to the means that would allow them to have a sexual life that was not tied to marriage or reproduction. In some cases, they faced the limits and repression of authoritarian governments and resistance from some left-wing writers, politicians, groups, and organizations who thought the current sexual revolution was a distraction imposed by imperialism. Given the importance of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the encyclical Humanae Vitae was welcomed by conservative actors who opposed the model of sexuality proposed by feminists, secularized enlightened middle classes, and other countercultural movements that supported the ideas of the sexual revolution. However, this document also found support in more radical sectors of the same Church that, in conjunction with some leftist groups, especially those involved in the armed struggle, rejected US interference in population issues. According to documents from these organizations and member testimonies, the sexual revolution, the pill, and feminisms hindered the birth of new generations of activists who could support the ongoing social and political revolution. Given these circumstances, the history of the birth control pill’s distribution and the implementation of family planning programs in Latin America must be considered in the context of regional and country-specific political, demographic, cultural, and religious issues.