Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980/contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate

By Weaver, Karol K. | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980/contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate


Weaver, Karol K., Nursing History Review


Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980 By Rebecca M. Kluchin (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2009) (269 pages, $45.95 cloth; $26.95 paper)

Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate By John H. Evans (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010) (267 pages, $45.00 cloth; $7.00 to $36.00 ebook)

Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980 and Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate both address women's reproductive issues. Fit to Be Tied does so by investigating the history of sterilization in the 20th century, whereas Contested Reproduction focuses on the discourses used to argue for or against Reproductive Genetic Technologies (RGTs). Both books also consider the history of eugenics in relationship to their main topics. Using different methodologies and sources, the books contribute to an understanding of reproductive issues in the United States.

To begin, Rebecca M. Kluchin's Fit to Be Tied deals with the history of sterilization over the course of the 20th century. Kluchin demonstrates that "reproductive fitness" or "the relative worth of a person's genetic or cultural abilities" (p. 2) has changed over time and in relation to concerns about gender, race, and class. She studies reproductive fitness by investigating the history of eugenics and neo-eugenics. In the first half of the 20th century, eugenicists were concerned with the low rate of reproduction among White, middle-class women whom they considered reproductively "fit." Their worries over the low level of fit reproduction were matched by their anxieties about the birth rate among poor, Eastern Europeans-a class of individuals deemed reproductively "unfit." Kluchin then shows that these eugenic ideas shifted in the second half of the 20th century and led to the development of neo-eugenics. Disturbed by the rise of identity politics by African Americans, Chicanos/as, and Native Americans and the creation of welfare and anti-poverty programs, supporters of neo-eugenics argued that characteristics like poverty were transmitted by culture not by genes. To decrease reproduction by the unfit, eugenicists and neo-eugenicists promoted sterilization of persons of color. Conversely, proponents of eugenics and neo-eugenics restricted the sterilization of fit women.

Kluchin not only investigates how sterilization and access to it were used to control women and to shape reproduction in the 20th century, but also shows how women worked to define reproductive choice for themselves. For White women, reproductive freedom meant abortion, contraception, and sterilization on demand. This definition was because of the limitations that had been placed on them by health professionals. Women of color, on the other hand, saw reproductive rights as combining both the ability to restrict one's reproduction and the right to bear and raise children without interference. Their definition of reproductive rights stemmed from the horrors of forced sterilization and contraception that they experienced at the hands of medical practitioners and the state. …

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