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From Prisoner Sterilizations to Abortion Restrictions, the Reproductive Rights of Women of Color Are Being Trampled

So many women in the United States lack reproductive justice, but recent stories show how it disproportionately eludes women of color.

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Valley State Prison for Women has not commented.

Meanwhile, anti-choice legislators in Texas—which is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long, and where nearly 40 percent of the population is Latino and over 12 percent is African-American—are fighting tooth-and-nail to restrict access to safe, legal abortion as much as possible, making it that much harder for Texans and citizens in neighboring states to make informed choices about their reproductive care.

These modern examples are linked to a deep history that goes back much further than Rock and Pincus’ testing of the birth control pill. In 2008, the Guttmacher Institute published a talk called “ Medical Mistrust and Communities of Color,” in which Loretta Ross, co-founder of SisterSong, revealed examples in U.S. history of times when “the medical community was enlisted in the larger project” of coercive medical practices against women of color. She pointed out that much of what we’ve learned about OB-GYN technology in the United States has resulted from doctors experimenting on women slaves.

“Eugenical laws were not discredited until the Nazis took them to their logical conclusion … unfortunately the thinking behind the laws, the eugenical feelings, never went away, they just regrouped,” Ross said, arguing that justifications for “forced control of people’s populations” has revealed itself throughout history.

In Johnson’s CIR story, Dr. Heinrich argues that tubal ligations would save the state money in welfare costs—evidence that the “forced control” Ross speaks of is alive today.

“Over a 10-year period, [the money spent to perform tubal ligations] isn’t a huge amount of money,” Heinrich said, “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.”

These aggressive attempts to restrict women’s health-care options, which range from shutting down abortion clinics to coercing women inmates to become sterilized, reveal the long, seemingly unattainable arc toward reproductive justice for women of color.


Sheila Bapat is an attorney and writer covering economic and gender justice. Her work has appeared in Salon, Reuters, Slate, AlterNet, Truthout, and many other publications.



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