Written by Miriam Perez for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
This article is part of a series appearing on RH Reality Check, written by reproductive justice advocates responding to recent efforts by the anti-choice movement to use racial and ethnic myths to limit women’s rights and health. Recent articles on this topic include those by Pamela Merrit, Gloria Feldt, Kelley Robinson, and Maame-Mensima Horne.
At first glance, it’s nice to see the anti-choice community pretending to care about communities of color. But within a few minutes, the skepticism sets in. What’s really behind these tactics, coming from a group that is majority white, middle-class and Christian? In the end, we know this isn’t actually about women of color and their well-being. It’s a sensationalist attempt to pit women of color against the reproductive rights movement. Classic divide and conquer.
Women of color within the reproductive rights and justice movement have brought light to the policies (often perpetuated by our own government, medical providers and researchers) that serve the mission of population control within our communities. We’ve fought back against the connections and alliances with those in the environmental rights movement who blame the challenges of resource scarcity on women of color and their family size.
We’ve fought back against governmental policies like welfare family caps and limits on access to certain types of contraception over others. We’ve fought with the reproductive rights community to get them to care about these issues and how they affect our communities—and we’ve won.
We’re fighting for access to contraception, to abortion, to options for childbirth and parenting. And now we’ll fight the racist and paternalistic logic behind the eugenics arguments being made by anti-choicers.
In the Latina community, we’ve dealt with all sorts of attempts at controlling our families. In addition to welfare family caps and abusive immigration policies, we’ve also got a long history of sterilization abuse. The height of this was in the 1970s, when Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias and others discovered that doctors and residents at a Los Angeles hospital had sterilized hundreds of Mexican women, without their knowledge or full consent. We’re talking women being asked to sign consent forms in languages they did not speak, being lied to and told that the procedure was reversible, or being offered sterilization in the midst of labor.
The result of this was a major organizing push by CESA—Committee to End Sterilization Abuse–to enact federal informed consent laws for sterilization. They won, and in 1976 these laws were enacted, mandating processes for informed consent, waiting periods for sterilization consent, and forms that had to be in the patient’s language, among other things.
But the fight did not end there. We’ve also dealt with a campaign to bring the population growth in Puerto Rico to zero—which actually worked in some cities, according to the documentary La Operación. Sterilization promotion was the primary tool here as well.
These days, the abuses are less obvious and more insidious. When I worked with pregnant Latina immigrants in Pennsylvania, I saw their options limited by the technicalities of their emergency Medicaid coverage. They could get sterilized, for free, right after their deliveries. But if they wanted the pill, the shot, or some other short term birth control? They were out of luck.
But what we know is that reproductive justice isn’t just about freedom from coercive sterilization. It’s also about access to a full range of reproductive technologies, whether that’s birth control, sterilization, abortion or even childbirth. Rodriguez-Trias understood this, which is why she formed CARASA a decade after CESA. CARASA, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse, understood that women needed options across the spectrum of reproductive technologies in order to truly achieve reproductive freedom. It’s clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide vital services to low-income Latinas, many of whom are uninsured.
Latinas and other women of color don’t need to be protected by paternalistic ideologues motivated by a political agenda that disregards the needs of women of color and their families. So thanks for your concern, anti-choicers, but I think the women of color advocates working within the reproductive justice movement have got it covered. We’re working in those clinics you attack, we’re helping to shape policies and provide services in our communities, services that allow us to decide what our needs are.
We know whom we can trust to make decisions about family creation: women themselves. We don’t need limits on what services we can access. And we don’t need your ideological bullying.
The next time one of your crisis pregnancy centers, one of your dramatic billboards, or one of your bogus pieces of “sex and race selection” legislation actually works to support women through whatever choice they make for their families—we’ll talk.