, , , , , , ,

The Scary Tale of Eugenics and the Law 

In the decades after World War II, eugenics be...

Image via Wikipedia

“Eugenics, Women of Color and Reproductive Health: The Saga Continues”

by Judith A.M. Scully, Stetson University College of Law
Africalogical Perspectives, Vol. 1, p. 167, 2004

This article focuses on the various eugenics policies used to sterilize and /or control the reproductive capacity of women of color. The word “eugenics” comes from the Greek root meaning “well-born,” although the meaning of this term appears to be benign, the practice of “eugenics” throughout the world has often embraced “racial cleansing” – the worst-case scenario being the Nazi eugenics programs of sterilization, euthanasia, and genocide. The article begins with a detailed historical account of the eugenics movement and presents various examples of involuntary and forced sterilization practices among women of color that were widely accepted after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of forced sterilizations in Buck v. Bell. The discussion extends into the use of birth control, not as an empowering tool that women use to control fertility, but rather as population control. Particularly, the article examines in detail the contraceptives Depo-Provera and Norplant, the dangers of these drugs, and the efforts used to target young, low-income women of color, by depriving them of the ability to make fully informed decisions about their reproductive health. Accordingly, these and other forms of population control fail to provide women with information about side effects and alternatives for reproductive health. Finally, the article examines CRACK (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity, and its impact on women of color. Professor Scully argues that the organization solicits those in primarily Black and Latino communities and possesses eugenic philosophies seeking to eliminate “problem children” that are the offspring of poor women. Professor Scully states that this program poses a serious threat to the reproductive rights of all women, not just those who are currently targeted. The article concludes that there is clearly a history of sterilization and contraceptive abuse regarding women of color in the United States and is particularly true among women of color who are young, poor and politically powerless. It is argued that perhaps women of color are subjected to such abuse because they are less likely to complain about exploitation, and are more likely to think of abuse as “normal.” Further, these women have less access to lawyers, the media, to advocacy organizations, and to educational resources, and therefore believed to pose less of a threat to unethical doctors and institutions conducting illegal sterilization procedures. The article concludes that contraceptives must focus on the benefits women receive, that the quality of contraceptives must improve, and that contraceptives must respect women’s health, autonomy, and integrity or otherwise be labeled as dangerous and unacceptable “choices.”

Download Dr. Scully’s article from the Social Science Research Network