NL 2009/05

"Regrettably it cannot be prevented"

The device to calculate safe and unsafe days caused a huge stir





"Whoever still doubts or denies that birth control is necessary for many individuals' economic existence cannot be a doctor, because he does not understand the burdens of our civilised world and its current difficult problems", wrote Austrian Gynaecologist Hermann Knaus in the 1930s. He argued that people could easily exploit for themselves the same fact they have applied for a long time to their livestock: Fertility is limited to a few days.

Relying on Knaus' scientific work and his cooperation, Heinrich Heyssler from the tiny Styrian village of Stübing developed the so called Konzip-Calendar or "Calendar of Marriage" for the easy calculation of safe and unsafe days. He "spent (his) whole and very limited wealth to have it patented and produced." But he could not market it since pharmacists and druggists demanded an official approval for its sale – even though that lacked a legal basis, and probably some courage. "Since this calendar is not a pharmaceutical, a therapeutic or prophylactic device, or a drug …" no authority can permit or prohibit its sale in pharmacies or drugstores. Additionally "pharmacists or druggists don't seem qualified to sell such theoretical education."

The 1930s correspondence between Heyssler, Knaus and the officials looks like a collective waffling since no authority is in charge but each one is concerned: The pharmacists want to guard themselves against criticism, their Viennese representatives can't decide, and the Ministries for Public Health and Social Issues don't act. "A reason for the prohibition cannot be … deduced from the present regulations for pharmacies."

However, what if the Konzip-Calendar is actually "printed matter"? If so, it's the book-trade's business to allow or prohibit its distribution. Nobody knew how to deal with the calendar. "Finally it should be said that the calendar's basic theory has not been accepted by every medical expert." "Authorizing the distribution of such medical advice in written form by pharmacists, druggists, and other shops if needed, must be seen as questionable, as a matter of principle."

"To release people from unsafe methods of preventing conception"
Positive statements of official reviewers are few in number: "If objections arise based on social or demographic aspects, they could be answered by noting that the calendar in question not only provides a way to prevent conception but could be used in a positive sense as well."

Repeatedly, the holder of the patent must overcome difficulties, but finally benefits from the fact, "that the Catholic church in its religious and pastoral literature deals very auspiciously with Prof. Knaus' discovery and the Konzip-Calendar. As a consequence, many rectories and ministers have placed large orders."

Another device is the "procreation barometer", developed by Hans Peschka from Aussig / Elbe. He experiences similar reactions from the authorities, with the result that importing the device is neither officially permitted nor prohibited. Regrettably, the Tax Performing Directive from 1920, June 20, cannot be used: "Such a device cannot be ranked under these appliances whose import can be limited or prohibited." "Furthermore a specific import ban due to health issues cannot be imposed."

But Knaus is a tireless fighter and finally achieves his goal. In 1934 he writes to the Ministry of Social Issues: "... in order to release people from all the currently used methods of preventing conception – which are both dangerous for their health but at the same time not safe – and especially to protect women from the dangers of abortion caused by the former .. it is time to effectively confront this evil event in their fertile life, and to do this is predominantly the duty of the government and doctors. It is incumbent on these two parties to draw on medical science's newest discoveries to secure the people's well-being, and in this case to supply women especially with the necessary education on the specifics of the female body's physiology of reproduction."

Source: Archiv der Republik, Karton 2349

Come and see devices used to calculate safe and unsafe days and other aspects of Knaus' discoveries in the Museum of Contraception and Abortion:
Wednesday through Sunday 14 -18 h. Mariahilfer Guertel 37, A-1150 Wien (Austria) www.muvs.org

P.S. This free email-newsletter is published every 4-8 weeks. You may subscribe in either English or German.