forced sterilizations

December 21, 2008 § 5 Comments

i give much love to anyone who has had to make the difficult decision to have major surgery that has resulted in not being able to conceive a child.  that is an incredible decision.  for those of you who felt informed, and weighed the pros and cons and made your choices accordingly, you have my respect (as much as that may mean).

but since i first read about forced sterilizations of women of color by racist doctors in angela davis’s book: women, race and class, whenever i think about it i want to cry.  that choice to conceive and bring life into this world stolen from women—all i can say is that the universe’s blessings are manifold.

el compa sent me a link: reparations for eugenic sterilization in north carolina.

North Carolina lawmakers pushed Thursday to offer reparations to thousands of victims of a forced sterilization program now recognized as a shameful part of U.S. history….“Yes, it is ugly. It’s not something that we’re proud,” said state Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, who has been working on the issue for several years. “But I’m glad that North Carolina has done more than any other state to step forward and not run away from it.”…Rep. Ronnie Sutton, the Democratic chairman of the study committee, said because of the nation’s lagging economy, it may not be possible to fully fund the compensation program with an estimated $18 million that would be needed to cover all surviving victims. “Anything with money is going to have a hard road to hoe,” Sutton said. He suggested lawmakers may consider funding some of the program in the upcoming session to get it started and finish allocating money at a later date.

that is not enough money.  sorry, but it is true.  for all those who wanted children and had that potential for giving life cut from their very bodies, there is not enough money left in this world, to compensate you for what doctors, lawyers, state regulations have ripped away.

and even of the 18 million, that money is largely symbolic, you will not see most of it…and that makes me sadder.  they will use the current economic down spiral as an excuse to not materially compensate you (even a little) for what you had stolen from you in order to appease the powers of good, well-meaning, evil folks in this world.

from the age of 17 when my best friend became pregnant, i considered myself to be strongly pro-choice.  i was sitting in my best friends car, outside of my mother’s house, when she told me that she was pregnant.  my best friend was a gorgeous, popular, filipina who danced better than me and knew how to hold her own in any situation.  there was a second or two of shock and then, my brain twisted itself into a new shape.  i had been staunchly pro-life, in accord with my pro-life church uprbringing.  and then all of a sudden i was pro-choice. because i wanted her to have the choice as to whether she would decide to be a mama or no.  i was excited to be an aunt.  but i was excited to not be one as well.  and all i could tell her was that she needed to do what was best for her.  and her life.

4 months later she miscarried.

i have been pro-choice ever since.

but when i was pregnant i read about margaret sanger’s associations with the eugenics movement and it made me sick.   andrea smith had published an article that detailed margaret’s history with brown and black and poor women –the ways that abortion and surgery had been used as a means to population control.  a year later read i andy’s book: conquest. a book that detailed the murder, abuse, trauma and genocide that native women had endured, including forced sterilization.

and while i am glad that the state of north carolina have acknowledged the history of racist and sexist sterilizations, i am appalled by the latest news of sterilizations:

Within the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic rise in programs aimed at sterilizing women, both in and outside the U.S. It is the most risky and fastest growing method of contraception in the U.S. today.1 Female sterilization increased by 350% from 192,000 in 1970 to 674,000 in 1975. 2 Some estimated 8 million men and women in the U.S. today are sterilized,3 and approximately one million women undergo sterilization operations each year.4 In 1970, 16.3% of all couples using some form of 5 contraception were sterilized. In 1973, the percentage had increased to 23.5.

from sterilization abuse: a task for the women’s movement

when i was pregnant i was called by a young white woman intellectual: a breeder.  as if i had betrayed some pact of sisterhood: thou shalt never conceive and carry to term.  and although for a few seconds i felt guilty for my deep desire to conceive, i realized that it wasnt us, black women, who had caused the ecological crisis in the world.  it wasnt us that had overloaded the planet with poisonous chemicals, or artifical food, or a greedy colonial appetite that could never be defeated except by death.

all i had done is bring into this world was a brown baby worthy of love.  love.  love.  yes, i will say it one more time, love.

Sterilization abuse, however, can occur on many different levels, and it will take much more than a federal order to prevent it from occurring again. When a woman does not know she had been sterilized or is knocked out and sterilized against her will, this is sterilization abuse in its most blatant form. However, more subtle forms of coercion or deception are often used. Misinformation is one tool of abuse–women are not told that the operation is permanent and irreversible, or are not counseled about other methods of birth control. Or women are wrongly told that if they don’t consent, their welfare benefits will be cut off. And illegal as well as legal immigrants are sometimes threatened with deportation if they refuse the sterilization. The lack of interpreters in health care institutions makes it especially problematic for non-English speaking women to be fully informed of their rights and the nature of the procedure itself. The issue of informed consent is particularly important when hysterectomies are encouraged for reasons not medically justifiable. One particular Chicago hospital15 for example, routinely suggests hysterectomies for women with Class III Pap smear results, which only indicate non-malignant abnormal cell growth of the cervix, and would not usually require removal of the uterus.

Sterilization abuse also occurs when the operation is suggested to women in stressful situations when they are not usually capable of making an informed decision and when they are not given an adequate period of time in which to consider their decision. At L.A. County Hospital, for example, some women were routinely asked during labor whether they wanted their tubes tied.16 Sterilization is increasingly being described as appealing and hassle-free, and is even suggested as a way of improving your sex life in a new pamphlet issued by DHEW.

so after i moved out of my pro-choice phase, i moved into supporting the reproductive justice movement.  and if yall have never been in love with a movement before (as i was with the pro-choice movement), you need to go–find yourself a movement–fall in love with a movement—fall in disillusionment–and then take it on as an identifying marker (a la third wave feminism’s identity politics) that proclaims that you are part of the movement with major ‘fuck no!’s’ on the margins.

because i cannot stand that white middle class feminism has taken something so beautiful as ‘our (woc) right to choose’ when and where and how we give birth and made it into their (white women)  rallying cry with barely a nod that we (woc) got shafted in the process. no planned parenthood in our hoods.  no fundraising drives for our girls.  we are expected to go to the nearest hospital available, especially if we dont have a personal vehicle, and take whatever they serve in terms of rape survival, pregnancy, birth, post-partum, menopause, etc.

It is no accident that all of these victims of abuse were poor and nonwhite women. In fact, the prevalence of sterilization among non-whites is higher than that of whites, even though non-white women make up a smaller percentage of the U.S. population than white women. Twenty percent of all married Black women in the U.S. have been sterilized and 14% of all. Native American women, compared to 7% of all married white women. 20 A recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) study commissioned by Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota, discovered that more than 3400 Native American women of childbearing age had been sterilized over a three year period in four different Indian Health Service areas in the Southwest.21 This figure is particularly frightening given the declining population of Native Americans–today there are fewer than 800,000 in this country. It would be comparable to sterilizing 452,000 non-white women in the U.S. The study also found that many of the consent forms to be illegal and not in compliance with Indian Health Service regulations. It also found that 36 women under the age of 21 and been sterilized, despite the court ordered moratorium on such sterilizations.

so i know alot of amazing women who are mama’s.  it makes me happy to know their strong willed quirky and struggling lives.  thank you to all of them.  we need to be vigilant to be careful to not think that class or race or gender or nationality or physical ability deigns some to be caretakers and others not to be so.  forget that.  we are who are.  and we are all community. and we believe in something bigger than just the individualist notion of ‘i’.  we believe in ‘we’.

so lets create a community.  lets love.  lets not do it in the service of hope or even honor but in the service of the fact that all of us have the right to create, sustain, and bring forth—life.

god bless.

yall.

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§ 5 Responses to forced sterilizations

  • kameelah says:

    thanks for this post. i am reading a book called medical apartheid: the dark history of medical experimentation on black americans from colonial times to the present. it is a really awesome texts that goes into a lot of these issues in depth. it’s a dense text, but well worth the effort.

  • beth says:

    1st off. I think the lack of proper informed consent, widespread use of coercion and fear tactics are appalling.Disgusting. Thank you for talking about something most folks ignore.
    I have a thought to pose to you though: Is race the only factor? Is it more about money and social class then it is about color. Yes, longstanding racism and exclusion have put peopleof color at the bottom. They are routinely crapped on without thought. But look at marginalized whites in West Virginia, or living in trailer parks and housing projects across the country.
    It’s the poisonous politics of modern capitalism. The grasping materialism of big business at the root of the whole nasty mess. Insurance companies, pulling the strings of doctors who see an easy mark in the young, poor, unededcated woman who”can’t afford more kids anyway”, are the force destroying whatever chance we have at an equitable health care system.

    I love your blog. Just found it. You’ve got a lot to say, and amazing perspective I don’t get in my milktoast social circle.

  • maia says:

    kameelah,

    i have to check out that book…thanks for the rec.

  • maia says:

    beth,
    no race is not the only factor. it is a primary factor in looking at forced sterilizations. i disagree with the analysis that class is *really* the issue. when looking at various aspects of health care in the states, middle class women of color, statistically show to receive worse treatment, and less options in the reproductive health care system than their white counterparts. if class was *really* the issue then the middle class of color should have health rates that parallel to the white middle class and they dont.
    working poor whites who are oppressed by the capitalist class system still have white privilege and a denial of the power of whiteness and racism in the health care system (and other systems)blinds us to the reality in which we live.
    i am strongly anti-capitalist. class, race, gender, able-ism, sexuality, and other social categories are interlocking systems of power and oppression. and no one category trumps the other.
    thank you. i am really glad that you enjoy the blog.

  • beth says:

    Thanks for replying. I’m really interested to look at this issue closer. Are there any good places to look at studies and statistics? I understand people look at me differently because I am white, I am puzzled and frustrated as to what to do about it though!?!? I’m going into women’s healthcare, what should I know before I do?

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