Monday, June 14, 2021

The Legal History of the Involuntary Sterilization of Native American Women

Sophia Shepherd, The Enemy is the Knife: Native Americans, Medical Genocide, and the Prohibition of Nonconsensual Sterilizations, 27 Michigan J. Race & L (forthcoming 2021) 

In the early 1970s, Tribal Nations learned that doctors at Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals were sterilizing at least 25 percent of Native American women of childbearing age. Most of the women were sterilized without their knowledge or without giving valid consent. This Article describes the legal history of how, twenty years after the sterilizations began, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, in 1978, finally created regulations that prohibited the sterilizations. It tells the heroic story of Connie Redbird Uri, a Native American physician and lawyer, who discovered the secret program of government sterilizations, and created a movement that pressured the government to codify provisions that ended the program. It explains the obstacles that Native activists faced when confronting the sterilizations, including the widespread acceptance of eugenic sterilizations, federal legislation that gave doctors economic incentives to perform the procedures, and paternalistic views about the reproductive choices of women, and especially women of color. Finally, this Article describes the long-lasting impacts of the federally-sponsored sterilization of Native women. The sterilizations devastated many women, reduced tribal populations, and terminated the bloodlines of some Tribal Nations. In the last decade, living victims of nonconsensual sterilization programs in other parts of the country have received compensation for their losses. Native American women deserve them too.

Family, Race, Reproductive Rights | Permalink


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