physician: Curtis Wood

•November 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Curtis Wood was one of many physicians in the early 1970s who believed that the physicians duty was to use sterilization as a means to rid the world of “undesirable” elements. In an article he wrote in 1973, “The Changing Trends in Voluntary Sterilization” Wood writes:

“As physicians we have obligations to our individual patients, but we also have obligations to the society of which we are a part. The welfare mass, as it has been called, cries out for solutions, one of which is fertility control.”

Serena Sebring - last update: November 30, 2007

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Dolores Madrigal

•November 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

On October 12, 1973, Dolores Madrigal arrived at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles (USC-LA) Medical Center to give birth to her second child. She would later report that while she was in labor and under medication, staff members from the medical center coerced her into giving consent to an operation. These doctors explained that they had to perform this operation, (mis)informing her that she would die if she became pregnant too soon after the birth of her child (Madrigal 41-42). Because of the advice she received and her distressed state due to labor pains, Madrigal signed a “consent to sterilize” form written in English, even though Spanish was her primary language, and received a tubal ligation – a virtually permanent sterilization procedure in which the fallopian tubes are cut and cauterized. Madrigal maintained that when she received this operation, “No one at the Medical Center informed me that a tubal ligation operation was going to be performed on me. No one at the Medical Center informed me of what tubal ligation operation consists nor of its permanent effects” (49).

Serena Sebring - last update: November 30, 2007

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Coercive Sterilization in China: Chen Guangcheng

•November 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Born in China’s eastern Shandong province, Chen Guangcheng, like all blind people at that time, was legally prohibited from pursuing a college degree. Though he could earn no law degree, he audited law classes and learned enough to help members of his community when they approached him for help with putting an end to the coerced abortions and sterilizations women were suffering in their village.

China’s “one-child” policy, which encourages population control through family-planning programs, has been in place for over two decades. This policy encourages small families, but coercive abortion and sterilization practices are forbidden by law. However, villagers in Linyi a city in eastern Shandong province reported that officials had initiated a forced abortion and sterilization campaign against women who they deemed ineligible to bear another child under the family-planning policy. According to the villagers’ reports at least two women had been forced to abort their babies just days before their due dates.

photo: Chen Guangcheng

source: AP

Chen Guangcheng responded by traveling to Beijing to publicize the reproductive abuses committed by local bureaucrats, in the hopes that higher-level officials would be pursuaded to step in and stop them. As a result of his advocacy the State Family Planning Commission called for the arrest of any local officials responsible for reproductive abuses. In September 2005, several health workers in Linyi were fired and one official was detained. Recognizing the power imbalances present in such a situation, Mr. Chen recently told reporters, “Someone has to fight for people with no voice. I guess that person is me.” Unfortunately, within hours of speaking to reporters in Beijing, Mr. Chen was shoved into an unmarked vehicle by public-security agents from his hometown. They transported Mr. Chen back to his hometown, where he was placed under house arrest for several months. In October 2005 he was assaulted at his home by unidentified assailants. In March 2005, he was arrested and sentenced for four years and three months for damaging property and disrupting traffic. Mr. Chen’s lawyers fought this conviction, arguing that he was really being punished for exposing the violations of China’s one-child policy and that China has a human rights record of being intolerant to dissent. In April 2006, Mr. Cheng lost his final appeal against this conviction and currently he remains in state custody as a result of his work to end forced sterilizations and reproductive abuses.

Serena Sebring - last update: November 30, 2007

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Byllye Avery interview excerpt

•November 29, 2007 • 1 Comment

Excerpted from an interview with Byllye Avery:

If a woman elected to have a baby, and she was a low-income woman and it was decided that she’d had too many children or if she got pregnant and went to the doctor and asked for an abortion her option was the same: “I’ll give you an abortion but you have to have a hysterectomy.” The same thing was done with the woman who had a baby, and they’d determined that she’d had enough children. She would be given what was called a “Mississippi Appendectomy.” And that was a hysterectomy, or her tubes were tied while she was under anesthesia. So she woke up with a baby but she also woke up with an inability to reproduce, without her permission.

Profile: Byllye Avery

Byllye Avery , M.Ed. (1937 -) cofounded the Gainesville (Florida) Women’s Health Center in 1974 and later became its president and executive director. Four years later she cofounded Birthplace, an alternative birthing centre, also in Gainesville. In 1983, Ms. Avery founded the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP – now known as the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a foremother organization to SisterSong). As executive director (1982-90) of the NBWHP, Avery helped the grassroots advocacy organization grow to an international network of more than 2,000 participants in 22 states and 6 foreign countries, producing not only the first Center for Black Women’s Wellness but also the first documentary film by African American women exploring their perspectives on sexuality and reproduction.

In recognition of her work with the NBWHP, which enabled thousands of African American women to take charge of their health care, Ms. Avery was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius award in 1989. Ms. Avery’s important work has also been recognized by the Essence Magazine Award for Community Service,the President’s Citation of the American Public Health Association, the Academy of Science Institute of Medicine’s Award for the Advancement of Health Care, Lifetime Television’s Trailblazer Award, and has been granted honorary degrees from Thomas Jefferson University, Gettysburg College, Bowdoin College, and others.

Currently she is a clinical professor at Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and an advisor to the National Institutes of Health. In 2002, Ms. Avery founded The Avery Institute for Social Change “a national, non-profit organization based in Harlem, NY that is committed to quality health care for all.”

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For more information about Byllye Avery, see:

Serena Sebring - last update: November 29, 2007

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Committee to End Sterilization Abuse

•November 26, 2007 • 3 Comments

[M]any women, in and outside the U.S., are often deceived or coerced into undergoing sterilization operations, often without even knowing that they had been sterilized. And most often, the subjects of such abuse are the poor, the Black, the Latino, the American Indian–those already abused by our health care system. - Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CCESA). “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement”(January-1977)

The Committee to End Sterilization Abuse was formed in the late 1970s by women of color in order to address the experiences of women of color with coercive sterilization practices. At a New York City Council hearing, CESA introduced guidelines designed to prevent sterilization abuses which served as a model for federal sterilization reform. The CESA guidelines required informed consent in the preferred language of the patient and a 30-day waiting period between the signing of an informed consent form and the sterilization procedure. In addition they suggested measures be put in place to prevent the practice of obtaining consent during labor, immediately following childbirth or abortion procedures, or in the context of a threat that patients could lose welfare benefits if they do not agree to sterilization procedures. (Roberts 1997: 95-96)

In 1978, the CESA guidelines calling for informed consent in the preferred language of the patient and 30-day waiting period were adopted by the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW) in their creation of new rules restricting sterilization performed under federally funded programs (i.e. Medicaid and AFDC). The HEW guidelines also prohibited hysterectomies performed for sterilization purposes and the use of federal funds to sterilize minors, those declared mentally incompetent to consent, or institutionalized persons. (Roberts 1997: 97)

Unfortunately, CESA’s important advocacy work and the influential guidelines they proposed were not met with widespread support within the mainstream feminist movement. Two of the major organizations leading the pro-choice movement, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) opposed the CESA guidelines to end the sterilization abuse of women of color, arguing that they restricted white, middle-class women’s access to voluntary sterilization (Roberts 1997: 300). Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, one of the founding members of the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, described one such conflict that arose at a 1974 conference held in Boston which was attended by thousands of women:

“We had a panel on sterilization abuse, which had to do with disrespect for women’s needs, wishes, and hopes. We brought up the Relf suit, brought on behalf of 2 Black, allegedly retarded girls, Minnie Lee Relf, age 12, and Mary Alice Relf, age 14, who had been sterilized without their knowledge or consent in a federally funded program in Montgomery, Alabama.“The Southern Poverty Law Center found out about the girls, and interviewed the mother, who said she thought she was consenting to the girls’ getting a contraceptive. She signed the consent form with an X because she couldn’t read and write. The case went to federal court, which said there was incontrovertible evidence that sterilization abuse was taking place, that some sterilization abuse was being subsidized by the government, and enjoined HEW [US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] to come up with guidelines to prevent sterilization abuse.”

“We got a lot of flack from White women who had private doctors and wanted to be sterilized,” she said. “They had been denied their request for sterilization because of their status (unmarried), or the number of their children (usually the doctor thought they had too few). They therefore opposed a waiting period or any other regulation that they interpreted as limiting access . . . While young white middle class women were denied their requests for sterilization, low income women of certain ethnicity were misled or coerced into them,” she explained. (Wilcox 2002)

Click here to go to the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) Statement of Purpose

Serena Sebring - last update: November 26, 2007

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Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias – sterilization abuse

•November 25, 2007 • 3 Comments

Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias (1929-2001)
M.D. – 1960, University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine
Specializations – pediatric medicine, teaching, social medicine

Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias was the first Latina President of the American Public Health Association and a throughout her career was nationally-known advocate for medically underserved communities. Dr. Rodriguez-Trias was also a founding member of the Women’s Caucus of the American Public Health Association (1971), the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, and the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (1979).

Helen Rodriguez-Trias, M.D.
courtesy of: JoEllen Brainin-Rodriguez M.D.

photograph by Rafael Pesquera

Moved by statistics like the fact that 30% of women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico had been sterilized with 30 years of a brutal population control campaign, and by stories like that of the Relf sisters and other young women who had suffered sterilization abuses and been denied full information about their reproductive choices, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias worked throughout her career to raise consciousness, form coalitions, apply pressure to policy makers, and open up new possibilities and access to reproductive freedoms for all women (Krase 1996).

In the early 1970’s, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias was invited by a New York University Law School student organization to give a short talk about Puerto Rican sterilization abuse after viewing a related film. After her talk, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias was approached by a handful of audience members. Some were hospital workers who recalled stories of minority and disadvantaged women where were coerced into signing sterilization consent forms. Full information on the procedure and its alternatives was not provided. The case of a young woman, incarcerated by the New York City Police, was brought up in discussion. While being detained, the woman discovered she was pregnant and wished to have an abortion. She was taken to a public city hospital for the procedure. During counseling for the abortion, sterilization was offered as the best prevention of future unwanted pregnancies. Uninformed and misled, the young woman signed the papers and later regretted the procedure. (Krase 1996)

As one of the founding members of the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, described the opposition they faced from the mainstream women’s movement around sterilization reform and how this played out at a 1974 conference held in Boston which was attended by thousands of women.

“We had a panel on sterilization abuse, which had to do with disrespect for women’s needs, wishes, and hopes. We brought up the Relf suit, brought on behalf of 2 Black, allegedly retarded girls, Minnie Lee Relf, age 12, and Mary Alice Relf, age 14, who had been sterilized without their knowledge or consent in a federally funded program in Montgomery, Alabama.The Southern Poverty Law Center found out about the girls, and interviewed the mother, who said she thought she was consenting to the girls’ getting a contraceptive. She signed the consent form with an X because she couldn’t read and write. The case went to federal court, which said there was incontrovertible evidence that sterilization abuse was taking place, that some sterilization abuse was being subsidized by the government, and enjoined HEW [US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] to come up with guidelines to prevent sterilization abuse.”

“We got a lot of flack from White women who had private doctors and wanted to be sterilized,” she said. “They had been denied their request for sterilization because of their status (unmarried), or the number of their children (usually the doctor thought they had too few). They therefore opposed a waiting period or any other regulation that they interpreted as limiting access . . . While young white middle class women were denied their requests for sterilization, low income women of certain ethnicity were misled or coerced into them” (Wilcox 2002)

Helen Rodriguez-Trias speaking at an abortion rights rally, 1970s
courtesy of: JoEllen Brainin-Rodriguez M.D.

Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Rodriguez Trias:

What was my biggest obstacle?

A watershed in my life was getting divorced in Puerto Rico—that was my second marriage—and leaving Puerto Rico to become part of the women’s movement. In my formation as a professional, there was always a kind of pressure to deny or not use a lot of your personal experience. The science of medicine, to some degree, negates the human, feeling, experiential part of it. But I was now discovering a whole other world out there through my personal experience of a deceptive marriage. That triggered quite a bit of growth in me toward understanding what happens internally to people, what happens in their lives and what they can do or not do…So I went back to New York and I got very involved in reproductive rights. I began to join in the women’s movement. At Barnard College there was a conference called the First International Conference on Abortion Rights that was attended by a few thousand women…We organized one of the first consciousness-raising groups of Latino women…A number of incredible things emerged from women talking about their experiences…We shared and we became very bonded. That was the beginning of my identification with women’s issues and reproductive health.

Who was my mentor?

Dr. Rodriguez-Trias has said, she was inspired by “the experience of [my] own mother, my aunts and sisters, who faced so many restraints in their struggle to flower and realize their full potential.”

~~~

Serena Sebring - last update: November 25, 2007

 

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sterilization abuse – coercion and consent

•November 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Forms of sterilization abuse include sterilization procedures performed*:

  1. when a woman has not given consent because she was unconscious
  2. against the expressed will of the patient
  3. with false consent based on medical misinformation – women are not told that the procedure is permanent and irreversible, or that sterilization is only one among many contraceptive options
  4. with false consent under threat of losing welfare benefits
  5. with false consent under threat of deportation
  6. with false consent – when sterilization is aggressively encouraged by medical providers to women in stressful situations or when they women are given inadequate time to consider the procedure
  7. without fully-informed consent – because non-English speaking patients are not provided with interpreters in health care institutions

* This list was adapted from a 1977 statement made by the Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, please see below for full citation information.

Serena Sebring - last update: November 25, 2007

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