Coerced Sterilization

You may have already been reading / listening  about the class action lawsuit proposed against Saskatchewan (inter alia) for the coerced sterilization of Indigenous women in that province.  If not, see here (or listen).   As framed by lawyer Alisa Lombard and 2 Indigenous women claimants, the suit would claim $7m in damages per claimant, and they believe there are around twenty other women who could join the (as yet uncertified) class.  Debbie Ironbow, interviewed last year by CBC, is one of those women.  Her language below sent me back to Patricia Williams’  “The Alchemy of Race and Rights” and many other assertions about the value of legal rights:

"I think the only thing that speaks is the law," she said. "The only thing we have going for us as Indigenous women and Indigenous people is that we can go into a courtroom and we can assert an inherent right over our bodies." [Debbie Ironbow quoted in David Shield, "'It steals your dreams': Saskatoon woman not sure whether she will join forced-sterilization lawsuit" October 11 2017, CBC News Online]

An independent report was released in the summer of 2017, “Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women” written by lawyer Senator Dr. Yvonne Boyer and Dr. Judith Bartlett.  Afterwards, the Saskatoon Health Authority apologized for the practice of sterilization of Indigenous women without proper or informed consent.   In reading through the report and hearing about the lawsuit, I was reminded of this piece that appeared in the jotwell section i co-edit earlier in the year.  Prof. Ruthann Robson wrote, in RESISTING ATTEMPTS TO CONTROL THE “HYPER-FERTILE”, about Prof. Maya Manian’s work, The Story of Madrigal v. Quilligan: Coerced Sterilization of Mexican-American Women.  It appears in Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

Both Robson’s short jot and Manian’s article are well worth reading, in terms of understanding coerced sterilization and legal approaches to these violations.  Robson’s short but informative note concludes with these lines:

The story Manian ultimately tells is one of courage and resistance. As we confront renewed efforts to control the reproductive and sexual rights of immigrants, people of color, and all women, it is a story that is worth reading—and retelling.

Another place that the Saskatchewan case could take us is to the broader question of racism in health care that continues to be the experience of Indigenous people across the country.  But for those interested particularly in “coerced sterilization,” here are some recent articles from a variety of national contexts.

Donofrio, Gemma. “Exploring the Role of Lawyers in Supporting the Reproductive Justice Movement” (2018) 42 NYU Rev L & Soc Change 221.
Mohapatra, Seema. “Politically Correct Eugenics Symposium: New Approaches & Challenges to Reproductive Justice” (2016) 12 FIU L Rev 51.
Ocen, Priscilla A. “Incapacitating Motherhood” (2017) 51 UCD L Rev 2191.
Pickles, Camilla. “Involuntary contraceptive sterilisation of women in South Africa and the criminal law” (2016) 2016:2 SACJ 89, online.
Sifris, Ronli. “Involuntary Sterilization of HIV-Positive Women: An Example of Intersectional Discrimination” (2015) 37 Hum Rts Q 464.
Steele, Linda. “Court Authorised Sterilisation and Human Rights: Inequality, Discrimination and Violence against Women and Girls with Disability” (2016) 39 UNSWLJ 1002.

One thought on “Coerced Sterilization”

  1. Good comment. Been tracking influence of eugenics ideology, generally, but also in British, American & Canadian law. Something persistent & pervasive, since at least the beginning of the last century. This reminds me of the Holmes quote from 1927 in Buck, where justified upholding sterilization by saying that “three generations of imbeciles were enough”. Some ways not much changed.

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