This signifies how, even at a time in which Black women had no political or economic
power, they were able to resist against a system that legally defined them as property. Although
they may not have been able to unshackle the chains that enslaved them, they were able to
liberate their unborn children from living a life of enslavement. This form of resistance by Black
women during the slavery era is a powerful demonstration of how women of color reclaim their
reproductive agency in their own individual form.
Birth control is the act of preventing pregnancy. There are various methods that serve as
birth control such as the pill, intrauterine device (IUD), and sterilization (tubal ligation or
hysterectomy). The creation of certain birth control methods, like the pill, revolutionized the
lives of white women. White women were able to enjoy the benefits of birth control, both by
having access to clinics and by being able to make informed choices over their reproductive
health. However, this privilege was at the expense of Latinx women. During the early
developments of the pill, women in Puerto Rican were unfairly subjected into testing out new
methods of birth control, like the pill, and suffered from sterilization abuse. Sterilization abuse is
when a woman is sterilized without her knowledge or informed consent. Some Puerto Rican
women received unnecessary hysterectomies when they had actually chosen tubal ligation.
Women in Puerto Rico also received misinformation regarding birth control pills and “la
operacion,” the colloquial term for sterilization.
This misinformation led many Puerto Rico
women to elect sterilization as a form of birth control thinking that later in time, they would be
able to reverse it, which is not always the case. After their own experience with “la operacion,”
Puerto Rican women would share their experience and limited knowledge about this birth control
method to their female relatives and friends. As a result of this word of mouth advice, more
Puerto Rican women entrusted medical officials with their bodies and reproductive health. More
than one-third of Puerto Rican women were sterilized. However, many Puerto Rican women did
not know that they were targeted because the government saw population control as the solution
for Puerto Rico’s poverty and overcrowding.
Despite the coercive nature of how birth control and sterilization was used in Puerto
Rico, many Puerto Rican women did not see themselves as victims of abuse.
women in New York chose sterilization as a method for birth control like women from the
Island. Some Puerto Rican women choose sterilization after having several children for
socioeconomic reasons like wanting to get out of poverty, marital difficulties, and or simply
because other birth control options were not available. The experiences of Puerto Rican women
who sought birth control, either through the pill or through sterilization, vary at the individual
level. Although sterilization abuse did occur, many Puerto Rican women actively sought
sterilization to combat poverty, prevent pregnancy, and or to combat patriarchal norms within
their family structures. Puerto Rican women had the right to embrace their sexuality without the
fear of becoming pregnant, and sterilization was a method that allowed them to do so.
Their choice may have been made under duress conditions, but this does not negate the
fact that many Puerto Rican women were able to exercise some form of reproductive agency.
While some Puerto Rican women did not see themselves as victims or as agents with power,
their individual choice in electing sterilization is a form of resistance against cultural and societal
norms that inhibited them from having complete volition over their body, fertility, and sexuality.
La Operacion, directed by Ana Garcia (1982), documentary.
Iris Lopez, Matters of Choice, (Rutgers University Press, 2008), xii.