Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights by Angela Davis

Interesting Find. Angela Davis's writings on abortion rights activist in the 70's and the reasons for black skepticism.

Part 1 
Part 2 

Part 3 of Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights by Angela Davis.

The 3 parts are only of Chapter 12 of her book "Women, Race & Class". Now I want the book. 

The abortion rights activists of the early 1970s should have examined the history of their movement. Had they done so, they might have understood why so many of their Black sisters adopted a posture of suspicion toward their cause. 

They might have understood how important it was to undo the racist deeds of their predecessors, who had advocated birth control as well as compulsory sterilization as a means of eliminating the "unfit" sectors of the population. 

Consequently, the young white feminists might have been more receptive to the suggestion that their campaign for abortion rights include a vigorous condemnation of sterilization abuse, which had become more widespread than ever.

It was not until the media decided that the casual sterilization of two Black girls in Montgomery, Alabama, was a scandal worth reporting that the Pandora's box of sterilization abuse was finally flung open. But by the time the case of the Relf sisters broke, it was practically too late to influence the politics of the abortion rights movement. It was the summer of 1973 and the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortions had already been announced in January. Nevertheless, the urgent need for mass opposition to sterilization abuse became tragically clear. The facts surrounding, the Relf sisters' story were horrifyingly simple. Minnie Lee, who was twelve years old, and Mary Alice, who was fourteen, had beer unsuspectingly carted into an operating room, where surgeons irrevocably robbed them of their capacity to bear children.34 The surgery had been ordered by the HEW-funded Montgomery Community Action Committee after it was discovered that Depo-Provera, a drug previously administered to the girls as a birth prevention measure, caused cancer in test animals.35 

In the aftermath of the publicity exposing the Relf sisters' case similar episodes were brought to light. In Montgomery alone eleven girls, also in their teens, had been similarly sterilized. HEW-funded birth control clinics in other states, as it turned out had also subjected young girls to sterilization abuse. Moreover individual women came forth with equally outrageous stories. Nial Ruth Cox, for example, filed suit against the state of North Carolina. At the age of eighteen — eight years before the suit — officials had threatened to discontinue her family's welfare payments if she refused to submit to surgical sterilization.37 Before she assented to the operation, she was assured that her infertility would be temporary.38 

Nial Ruth Cox's lawsuit was aimed at a state which had diligently practiced the theory of eugenics. Under the auspicies of the Eugenics Commission of North Carolina, so it was learned, 7,686 sterilizations had been carried out since 1933. Although the operations were justified as measures to prevent the reproduction of "mentally deficient persons," about 5,000 of the sterilized persons had been Black.39 According to Brenda Feigen Fasteau, the ACLU attorney representing Nial Ruth Cox, North Carolina's recent record was not much better. 

"As far as I can determine, the statistics reveal that since 1964, approximately 65% of the women sterilized in North Carolina were Black and approximately 35% were white."