The History of Sterilization Abuse in the United States
The guidelines set forth by the HHC could only be applied to the city’s public hospitals. In response, Public Law #37 was passed by the New York City Council in April of 1977, making the HHC guidelines the law of the city, applicable to both public and private facilities. Failure to comply with these regulations would result in a penalty. Public Law #37 was unique in that past guidelines were expanded to include the regulation of the practice of sterilization on men as well as women.
With success in New York City, groups in other regions looked toward pursuing similar goals. In Los Angeles, a group of ten Mexican-American women successfully sued the County Hospital for denying them informed consent. These women, who only spoke Spanish, were coerced into signing consent forms in English, while some were in labor and others were under anesthesia. Since the successful settlement of this case, the L.A. County Hospital has become squeaky clean when it comes to following sterilization guidelines.
In response to regional action, the HEW redesigned their national guidelines for sterilization practices to embody the provisions of New York’s Public Law #37 in 1978. The national guidelines received widespread support from CESA as well as over one hundred other regional and national organizations, but also faced opposition from organizations that saw the guidelines as limiting women’s access to sterilization s a choice for contraception.
Even with these many successes, less fortunate and poorly educated women are still being denied the reproductive freedoms available to other women, and entitled to all. Dr. Rodriguez-Trias believes that although the organization of local groups has been effective in the sharing of information as well as in applying pressure to policy makers, only with raised consciousness, informed consent, and the existence and accessibility to real alternatives, can freedom of choice become a reality for all women.
For more information, see
Bauza Vanessa. “Puerto Rico: The Covert Campaign to Sterilize Women.” Ms. Magazine.
Corea, Gena. The Hidden Malpractice: How American Medicine Treats Women as Patients and
Professionals. New York: William Morrow, 1977, p. 128.
Dreifus, Claudia. “Sterilizing the Poor.” The Professive. Dec. 1975, p. 13.
Rodriguez-Trias, Helen.Telephone Interview. Oct. 13, 1995.
Rodriguez-Trias, Helen. “Puerto Rico, Where Sterilization of Women Became ‘La Operacion’.”
Rodriguez-Trias, Helen. “Sterilization Abuse.” Lecture, 1976. Published by The Women’s
Center, Barnard College, 1978.
Tyler, Jr., Carl W. “An Assessment of Policy Compliance with the Federal Control of
Sterilization.” Atland, GA. Centers for Disease Control. June 1975.
Written by: Kathryn Krase. Originally published in the Jan/Feb 1996 newsletter of the National Women’s Health Network; reprinted with permission
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