Written and researched by Tomei Kuehl
Accompanying artworks selected in partnership with Talia Cardin, Youth-facilitator to the Youth Sexual Health Program Board
“The system, policy, or practice of occupation and control of one people by another enabling domination and subjugation through political, economic, or educational status.”
– Definition from the Resistance to Forced Sterilization Curriculum, November 2016
Forced sterilization is a colonizing tool used by the U.S/ government for hundreds of years to exercise control over women, Native American, Puerto Rican, Black, poor, and disenfranchised communities. The US government forced Native peoples onto reservations and asserted its colonial powers by criminalizing Native healers and the birthing knowledge of midwives. The Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970 subsidized sterilizations and it is estimated that at least 25% of Native American women of childbearing age were sterilized (Lawrence, 2000). Many of these were done without consent or the women’s knowledge.
Modern gynecology also has its roots in colonialism. In the 1950s, Gregory Pincus conducted the first large-scale human trials of the modern contraceptive pill on Puerto Rican women, without clear consent. Pincus intentionally chose Puerto Rico for his experiments because colonization by the U.S. created high levels of poverty among Puerto Ricans. Many women who participated did not understand the risks of taking the drugs and some did not know they were part of a randomized trial. Ironically, despite the contribution Puerto Rican women made to the pill’s development, Puerto Rican women could not access the safer version on the market because it was initially only prescribed to those who were married on the mainland United States (Sowemimo, 2021).
- Lawrence, J. (2000). The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women. American Indian Quarterly, 24(3), 400–419. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1185911
- The Freedom Archives (November 2016). Resistance to Forced Sterilization Curriculum. The Freedom Archives. http://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC46_scans/46.SterilizationCurriculum.Nov2016.pdf
- Sowemimo, A (2021, January 10). The racist and unethical origins of modern gynecology. Clue