sterilization – black women

“America has always viewed unregulated Black reproduction as dangerous. For three centuries, Black mothers have been thought to pass down to their offspring the traits that marked them as inferior to any white person. Along with this biological impairment, it is believed that Black mothers transfer a deviant lifestyle to their children that dooms each succeeding generation to a life of poverty, delinquency, and despair. A persistent objective of American social policy has been to monitor and restrain this corrupting tendency of Black motherhood.” (Roberts 1997:8)

During the 1950s in the US South white women faced economic, legal, and medical obstacles to their access to reproductive services such as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. During this same time family planning initiatives targeted women of color (particularly black women) encouraging the use of contraceptives and sterilizations in the interest of reducing the growth of the black population. Family planning initiatives were politically espoused by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond, as a racialized form population control in the interest of limiting black voter strength in the US South. State funding for family planning clinics frequently recieved popular support when associated with women of color, though the same was not true when associated with white women. Or, in the words of Louisiana judge Leander Perez, “The best way to hate a nigger is to hate him before he is born.” * (Ross 2006: 59)

Bitter experience has taught the Black woman that the administration of justice in this country is not colorblind. Black women on welfare have been forced to accept sterilization in exchange for a continuation of relief benefits and others have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent. A young pregnant woman recently arrested for civil rights activities in North Carolina was convicted and told that her punishment would be to have a forced abortion. – National Council of Negro Women, editorial, Black Woman’s Voice 2, no. 2 (January/February 1973).

In the US South, throughout the the 1960s and 1970s, federally funded welfare state programs underwrote the coercive sterilization of thousands of poor black women. Under threat of termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care, many black women “consented” to sterilization procedures. Within southern black communities knowledge of the routine imposition of non-consensual and medically-unnecessary sterilization on black women was well known – a practice so common it came to be known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.” (Roberts 2000)

However, this problem was not confined to the “backward South” in the North, teaching hospitals also performed unnecessary hysterectomies on poor black women as practice for their medical residents. According to the director of obstetrics and gynecology at a New York municipal hospital, “In most major teaching hospitals in New York City, it is the unwritten policy to do elective hysterectomies on poor black and Puerto Rican women, with minimal indications, to train residents” (Roberts 1997:91). A front-page article in the Boston Globe from April 1972 reported a compliant filed by a group of medical students that Boston City Hospital was performing excessive and medically unnecessary hysterectomies on Black patients – the complaint included procedures performed for “training purposes,” inaccurate medical records of such procedures, patients who were pressured into signing consent forms without adequate explanation, and other abuses (Roberts 1997:91).

Across the country, state legislators proposed a variety of punitive sterilization bills intended to diminish the growing number of blacks receiving public assistance. (Roberts 2000)

In 1973, the case of two young black girls in Alabama brought increased public awareness to the issue of sterilization abuse against black women in the South. The Relf sisters, ages 12 and 14, had been declared mentally incompetent by an Alabama physician who subsequently sterilized them using Federal funds to pay for the procedures. Their mother, who could not read or write, had been deceived into signing her “x” on the consent forms. [Relf et al. vs. Weinberger et. al. Civil Action No. 73-1557 U.S. District Court. Washington, D.C. March 15, 1974.] (CCESA 1977)

Public awareness was also generated around the case of a South Carolina physician who publicly defended his professional policy on welfare mothers:  he told the local press that it was his policy to require sterilization after delivery of a mother’s third baby in order to reduce the state welfare rolls.  Dr. Clovis H. Pierce was the only obstetrician in rural Aiken County, South Carolina who accepted Medicaid patients. When Marietta Williams, a 20-year old black woman on welfare was pregnant with her third child, Dr. Pierce refused to deliver the baby unless Ms. Williams agreed to sign the consent form for sterilization. Dr. Pierce told another patient (Dorothy Waters), “Listen here, young lady, this is my tax money paying for this baby and I’m tired of paying for illegitimate children. If you don’t want this sterilization, find another doctor.” (Roberts 1997:92). This doctor subsequently sterilized 28 black women in a three month time period (CCESA 1977). Between 1971-1972, Dr. Pierce was paid $60,000 of taxpayers’ money in the form of Aiken County Hospital fees billed to Medicare funds. Though several of the women targeted by Dr. Pierce sought government assistance in addressing their cases, the Department of Social Services refused to intervene on their behalf (Roberts 1997:92).

* this quote is cited by Ross as drawn from: Martha C. Ward, Poor Women, Powerful Men: America’s Great Experiment in Family Planning (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), 31.


Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CCESA). 1977. “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement”(January-1977). Available online: <> Accessed: November 20, 2007.

Roberts, Dorothy. 1997. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Pantheon Books.

Roberts, Dorothy. 2000. “Black Women and the Pill.” Family Planning Perspectives. Volume 32, Number 2, March/April 2000 <> accessed Nov. 19, 2007.

Ross, Loretta J. 2006. “The Color of Choice: White Supremacy and Reproductive Justice” pp. 53-65 in Color of Violence: the INCITE! Anthology. Boston: South End Press.

~ by Serena on November 19, 2007.

13 Responses to “sterilization – black women”

  1. I’m 16 and when i heard about this i was furious. To think that the amount of racial hatred measures to be so high is very disturbing.
    Other strategies should have been made than this it is wrong, immoral and extremely contradictory(illegal to abort- pro life indeed!).Basically GENOCIDE.

  2. Unnecessary hysterectomy by deception is common place in the United States for all women. Doctors have systematically hysterectomized and castrated 21 million women who are living today. It is criminal. They continue on this rampage today. There is an organization trying to stop this for all women. HERS Foundation. Go to and sign the petition to stop unconsented hysterectomy.

  3. I was given an unnecessary hysterectomy removing one ovary almost 2 years ago for a fibroid tumor. I went through this without being given the correct information before or after the surgery. I was still discussing the surgery when the anesthetist started the anesthesia. What I experienced after this barbaric surgery was a torture to the point of inhumanity. There is a loop-hole in the current consent form for all female surgeries in America. This loop-hole allows doctors to remove a womans healthy female organs at will. Have a lawyer draw up your consent form before having any female surgery to protect yourself. The consequences of a hysterectomy/castration are shown in the free educational video “female anatomy, at, One in every three women in America have had their female organs removed by hysterectomy/castration. Don’t let this happen to someone you care for, get the facts. Please sign the petition to end unconsented hysterectomy at, Read the blog full of women who were not given the correct information and now suffer from hysterectomy/castration.

  4. Doctors don’t care what color you are. They are ready and willing to give millions of unnecessary hysterectomies and castrations (removal of ovaries) yearly. We are all victims and all have been lied to. Together we can stop this from happening to anymore girls and women! We can sign a petition and pass a law requiring doctors to give out the DVD ‘Female Anatomy’ to every women they prescribe this surgery to. As Mattie said above go to and sign the petition and read their blog what hundreds and hundreds of women who are suffering are saying about this barbaric surgery all because doctors don’t care about you. Doctors would never castrate millions of men.

  5. Racist and sexist crmies are alive and well today all over the world. The United States is no exception. In fact some of the worst genocidal crimes against women are right here in the U.S. It doesn’t surprise me at all that women of color who are economically disadvantaged are being sterilized against their will. These doctors also know that sterilization can lead to hormonal problems and endometriosis. Even hysterectomy. More money for them to rake in. Sterilization is just another way for white anglo saxon males to overpower and control women. It is another form of rape.
    I was also deceived into a hysterectomy and removal of both ovaries for a completely treatable problem that had only been diagnosed one year previously. It didn’t matter that I was of childbearing age (33) and had never had a chance to have children. Or that I was otherwise totally healthy. I can not say that anymore. My life was ruined. Black women are also more commonly hysterectomized than white women, but it happens to over 600,000 women of all colors and economic classes every single year. It will only get worse until we stand up and fight this horrific crime.

  6. Unfortunately there is racism, however as stated women in general are considered inferior I feel that way because most doctors act like they are doing the women a favor for a better life they perpetuate a lie “oh your done having children” “you won’t have those messy periods anymore.” When the doctors are castrated and they tell their story I might listen. This will
    never happen. Since I am 30 years post hysterectomy when I have tried to tell the cons women don’t want to hear my story. Somehow the women who claim it was the best surgery they ever had continue the lie before unsuspected women. I have very little impact on women that have know me for this time frame. I believe this surgery is a CRIME.

  7. There is a lot of racism going on in the U.S., and it’s even been reported that black women are targeted more for unnecessary hysterectomy/castration. This is a horrible crime being committed against all women. This was done to me with no medical basis after going into an emergency room with pain. A minor surgery was all that was necessary, but instead, my healthy uterus, cervix and ovaries were amputated. On top of that, my consent form was falsified. It’s unbelievable that this can be done in the United States in 2008.

  8. I want to get a partial hysterectomy, but everyone is telling me that it was going to be very difficult bc you have to have an actual problem to get one but ive been reading on the internet that, that isnt entirely true. I want just my uterus removed, but I see here that doctors are removing ppls ovaries which is horrible!! If you are of child bearing age and your ovaries are removed your life will be ruined!! I am a black and mexican woman 21 yrs old w/ no children and I am poor and I have mental illnesses. I have not asked for one bc im pretty sure they’d say no, but i think that its horrible that they are sterilizing women against their will, not just by removing the uterus but also by removing the ovaries

  9. […] considering the psychological horror and long-term health effects of the Tuskegee Experiments and coercive sterilizations of early to mid-1900s.  A recent town hall meeting in Harlem widely attended by local leaders, […]

  10. […] mississippiappendectomy catalogs forced sterilization in the United States […]

  11. […] them "power" I'll add to your list of Eugenics: Forced Sterilization of Women of Color: sterilization – black women The Crisis of Forced Sterilization of Women of Color in the Americas "The pill" – the […]

  12. […] Another woman stood up and warned the audience against the medical approach of treating fibroids, telling them it was just a way of sterilising black women.  She urged them “don’t let 2011 become 1950s USA!”  She was referring to the sterilisation of black women by deceptive, coercive, or forced hysterectomies, which occurred in the US so commonly that they earned the nickname the Mississippi appendectomy. […]

  13. I’ll be happy the day when black people will stop sarchmg for ways to justify that all white people aren’t bad long enough to love our on people. American has been “more thn cruel” to us with methods,rules and laws like this. Sadly, it is still this smell message being sent out today when this country wants us to ridicule our own children today for having babies and being on welfare when young white women triple the number of black women on welfare. Perhaps the message isn’t to discourage our daughters from saying sh*t like this but rather to teach them how to be mothers if pregnancy should occur. When will we ever learn?

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