This recent post on the very popular feminist blog Feministing.com generated a lot of discussion among their readers, and got me pretty angry at the same time. It dealt with the story of one 20-something woman and her search for a doctor who would sterilize her, because she knew she never wanted to have children. Pretty much everyone refused to perform the procedure, for varying reasons, most of which revolved around not trusting her to make the irreversable decision at such a young age.
This is not a new dilemma. Mostly white, middle class women have dealt with these challenges since the procedure was developed–doctors not wanting to sterilize them based on age, number of children, even permission from husbands. Women have even had problems getting doctors to give them long-term birth control, like IUDs, for similar reasons.
But there is a flip side to this debate, which I attempted to add to the discussion that arose from the Feministing post, but had little impact overall. The flip side is sterilization abuse: women who are forcibly or unknowingly sterilized against their will. Here is what I commented on the feministing post:
I think that you will find that for women of color, low income women, or immigrant women, this issue is completely different. Rather than having trouble getting sterilization surgeries, they are being FORCIBLY sterilized.
There is a long history of this in the United States. In the 1970s, it was discovered that hundreds of Mexican-origin women were being unknowingly sterilized at an LA hospital. They were being told the operation was reversible and given forms they couldn’t read (because they were in english) to sign.
These abuses promoted a campaign by a group called CESA (Committee to End Sterilization Abuse), spearheaded by Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias that was able to pass federal guidelines regarding sterilization–requiring forms in the person’s native language, and a waiting period to give consent. Many times these women were being asked if they wanted the procedure while in labor.
This created an outrage among white feminists, for exactly the reasons Ann mentions above–they felt it was an infringement on a woman’s right to choose sterilization and was a barrier to her access.
It’s a great example of when the feminist movement gets divided along racial lines–white women and women of color are experiencing this issue in opposite ways.
There are a number of more “legal” ways that women of color and low-income women continue to be subjected to coercive reproductive control policies. Undocumented women in PA were allowed access to tubal ligations (without cost) but no help for other shorter term birth control methods.
Generally I love the debates and discussions on Feministing, I think they provide a wide range of perspectives and foster great dialogue. I was really disappointed by this post however, and even more disappointed to see that in the more than 100 comments posted (mine was 20-something) only one other person even acknowledged the flip-side of this issue for women of color, low income women, and immigrants.
There are seriously racist and eugenist philosophies at work here, for both cases. Doctors don’t want to sterilize young smart white women, partially because these are the people everyone wants reproducing. Just take a look at egg donation advertising for further proof of this. And the government wants to sterilize young undocumented and poor women of color because they are all of the things I just mentioned: of color, undocumented and poor. Plus they are reproducing at a higher rate than white people, who are barely replacing themselves. So let’s call this what it is–racism at work on our access to reproductive health technologies.