Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare

Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare

Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare

Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare

Synopsis

In August 2003, North Carolina became the first U. S. state to offer restitution to victims of state-ordered sterilizations carried out by its eugenics program between 1929 and 1975. The decision was prompted by newspaper stories based on the research of Johanna Schoen, who was granted unique access to summaries of 7,500 case histories and the papers of the North Carolina Eugenics Board.

In this book, Schoen situates the state's reproductive politics in a national and global context. Widening her focus to include birth control, sterilization, and abortion policies across the nation, she demonstrates how each method for limiting unwanted pregnancies had the potential both to expand and to limit women's reproductive choices. Such programs overwhelmingly targeted poor and nonwhite populations, yet they also extended a measure of reproductive control to poor women that was previously out of reach.

On an international level, the United States has influenced reproductive health policies by, for example, tying foreign aid to the recipients' compliance with U. S. notions about family planning. The availability of U. S.-funded family planning aid has proved to be a double-edged sword, offering unprecedented opportunities to poor women while subjecting foreign patients to medical experimentation that would be considered unacceptable at home.

Drawing on the voices of health and science professionals, civic benefactors, and the women themselves, Schoen's study allows deeper understandings of the modern welfare state and the lives of American women.

Excerpt

In 1948, Estelle, a twelve-year-old African American girl from Pittsburgh, had her first encounter with abortion. Without examining her, a physician had concluded that she was four months pregnant. An irregular period and, most likely, Estelle's race had been enough evidence for him to diagnose pregnancy. Actually, Estelle had not been pregnant, and eventually she began menstruating again. Her first real pregnancy occurred in 1957, and at the age of twenty-one Estelle gave birth to her first baby. After the delivery, she tried to obtain contraceptives but found that as a single woman she was ineligible. Her second baby followed in 1958, and her third in 1959. In 1961, when she discovered that she was pregnant for the fourth time, she tried to secure an abortion. It took her a while to find an abortionist, and when she finally located one, the abortionist informed her that her pregnancy was too far along. Estelle had no choice but to have another baby.

After the delivery, Estelle married and again tried to obtain contraceptives. This time, however, she met the resistance of her husband, who refused to sign the required form. Within four months, Estelle was once again pregnant. Right away, she contacted her abortionist and terminated the pregnancy, only to find herself pregnant for the sixth time in 1962. Her husband had just lost his job, and there was no money for another abortion. Estelle tried a number of . . .

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