The Paradox of Reproductive Oppression Against Womxn of Color

“You can’t have babies, but you can’t get an abortion.” —

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Illustration by Hazel Newlevant

White Supremacy, Population Control, and Sterilization Abuse

“Reproductive politics are about “whether, when, and which women can reproduce legitimately and the struggles over which women have the right to be mothers of the children they bear.” -Kimberlé Crenshaw³

  • In 1960 when New Orleans was ordered to desegregate its schools, Black women were criminalized for second pregnancies and threatened with imprisonment and welfare fraud. Afterwards, many of these women and children disappeared from welfare rolls.⁹
  • A 1965 survey of Puerto Rican residents found that about one-third of all Puerto Rican mothers, ages 20–49, were sterilized.¹⁰
  • In 1974, Southern Poverty Law Center discovered that 100,000 to 150,000 poor people were being sterilized each year under federally-funded programs.¹¹
  • A young pregnant Black woman arrested for civil rights activities in North Carolina was convicted and told that her punishment would be to have a forced abortion.¹²
  • Black women on welfare have been forced to accept sterilization in exchange for continuation of relief benefits, and others have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent.¹³
  • “Between 2006 and 2010 at least 116 people in two California prisons were sterilized as a form of birth control via tubal ligation during labor and delivery. At least a couple dozen more prisoners — predominantly Black, Latina, poor women and transgender people — reported being sterilized by hysterectomy and oophorectomy under highly questionable and abusive circumstances.”¹⁴
  • In the landmark case Madrigal v. Quilligan, Mexican immigrant women sued doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were sterilized without knowledge or consent while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.¹⁵ (Check out the documentary No Más Bebés to learn more.)
  • 4 of the 12 Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 American Indian women without their permission between 1973 and 1976. The Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.¹⁶

Implications for Today

Mainstream dialogue and debates around reproductive justice often center on abortion rights, and dissociates from the U.S.’s legacy of violating the bodies and reproductive freedoms of indigenous, Black, immigrant, incarcerated, and disabled communities. However, the two are intimately connected because they point back to the State’s commitment to control marginalized communities and women’s bodies by whatever means necessary.

To Learn More About Reproductive Justice:

SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Written by

ethnic studies adjunct professor | youth social services | writer, speaker, researcher |

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