The Politics of Sterilization
(Editor's Note:Sterilization abuse was a serious issue that the
CWLU addressed in a number of ways. This leaflet is an example of
an early CWLU attempt to bring forced sterilization to the attention
of the women's movement.)
in the doctors office, I picked up the July 71 issue
of McCalls. I was interested to see that McCalls now
has a monthly newsletter for women which they call Right Now.
I was even more interested to see what the first, feature article
in Julys Right Now was all about a new,
betterthanever method of sterilization for women.
to Eleanor Clift, who wrote the article, this new method, with the
imposing technical name of laparoscopy bilateral partial salpingectomy,
can be done either overnight or on a oneday outpatient basis.
It is considerably cheaper (at about $3OO) than the older method
which required a fairly major operation to tie the Fallopian tubes
(which carry the egg from ovary to uterus) . This older method,
called a tubal ligation, costs from about $900 to $1,200 or so.
With the new method, a very small incision is made in the navel
and a laparoscope (a long slender tube) is inserted. A second, also
small incision is made below the navel. A small, electrified forceps
is put into this incision, and with the guidance of a light shone
through the laparoscope, the forceps is used to cauterize the Fallopian
tubes. This operation (like the tubal ligation) is almost always
irreversible; that is,. it rarely can be undone to allow the woman
to bear children.
of this takes about twenty minutes under anesthesia, and is followed
by what Right Now described as minor discomfort
for a few hours. There are a few limitations as to which women
can have this type of minor surgery (very obese women cannot be
operated on this way: neither can women with adhesions scars
from previous surgery) , but doctors generally feel that
this is a very beneficial and widely applicable procedure. It turns
out, according to the article, that this method of sterilization
has been known since 1914. So why is it being pushed now?
I feel that the womens movement has a few comments to make.
It seems clear that this kind of surgery offers a welcome opportunity
to those women who have decided definitely that they do not want
to have children or to have more children, as the case might
be and who do not want to take the risks of currently available
methods of birth control. To the degree that women are developing
lives centered around things other than the traditional wifeandmother
role, this operation offers another alternative to us, one which
we can be glad to have around.
we must recognize the other side of the coin as well. It seems important
to note that Dr. Clifford R. Wheeless, a Baltimore gynecologist
who is singled out in the article as a pioneer in working with this
type of operation, is currently going to India, where he will train
physicians to perform this operation in tents set up in the countryside.
Right Now mentions concern with overpopulation
as one reason for the current interest in this operation. Then I
myself checked into possibilities of having my own tubes tied (I
had a standard type of tubal ligation last January, at a cost of
about $900 and five days in the hospital), I heard that this type
of operation was being done experimentally at a local outpatient
clinic. I was lead to believe that the clinic treated mainly women
on welfare from the black community; I was told that I myself was
not eligible to be enrolled in the clinic.
all of this brings to my mind is the fact that more efficient means
of sterilization can be used against poor and nonwhite women,
both here in the U.S. and abroad (as in India) to make it easier
to induce or coerce them, against their will, to give up their right
to determine for themselves whether they will have children. For
those of us who are white and middle-class, it might seem unreal
to suggest that this could happen. But women on welfare, women in
the delivery room at Cook County, women in India whose children
are starving are in far more vulnerable positions than we can imagine.
We must remember that the right to control our own bodies means
exactly that: the right to choose to have children, as well as the
right to choose not to.