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Arie Haspels

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 14 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f901
  1. Tony Sheldon, Utrecht, Netherlands
  1. tonysheldon5{at}

Champion of women’s right to control their fertility and inventor of the “morning after” pill

ANP Photo

Many agree that Arie Haspels, who died at the age of 87, was “the right man, at the right time, in the right place.” This was certainly true for a woman who attended his surgery in 1964 after having been gang raped. It would be two decades before abortion was officially legal in the Netherlands, but, by treating the woman with oestrogen, Haspels prevented any pregnancy. Almost by accident the “morning after” (emergency contraceptive) pill was born. Haspels would go on to champion women’s right to control their fertility, chiming with a sexual revolution that transformed a conservative Netherlands in the 1960s.

Born into a strict Protestant family near Rotterdam, Arie Haspels declared, at the age of 8, that he would become a medical missionary. After qualifying, he left for Indonesia and later Nigeria, where his views on contraception were forged as he experienced how multiple births simply led to children starving. He also became an expert in repairing obstetric fistulas caused by pregnancy trauma, a problem largely affecting developing …

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