Our Issues: Sterilization

Latinas and Sterilization in the United States

This article appeared in the National Women's Health Network Women's Health Activist newsletter for the May/June 2008 Feature Article

Surgical sterilization (also called “tubal ligation”) was introduced in the 1930s and has become a very popular form of permanent birth control. It is the most frequently used birth control method worldwide, chosen by over 10 million women internationally; in the U.S., it is second-leading form of family planning and the preferred method among Latina women. The reasons women choose sterilization are extremely varied and personal, and research has shown that women of color choose sterilization at much higher rates than White women do.

This popularity belies the complicated history of sterilization among women of color, however, and especially among Latinas. In the 1960s and 1970s, a significant number of women in the U.S. (primarily low-income women, women of color, women receiving care from Indian Health Services and institutionalized women) were sterilized under coercive conditions. They were approached during childbirth by doctors who withheld information about the surgery’s permanence and/or falsely advised that sterilization was necessary. Some women were threatened by hospital staff that, unless they consented to be sterilized, their welfare benefits would be cut off or they would be forced to leave the hospital before giving birth.

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Links

CWLU Herstory Website: Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Sterilization Abuse

Family Health International on Male Sterilization