While it may seem shocking, throughout the history of the United States there have been multiple policies that have allowed for the forced sterilization of marginalized communities and minority groups such as prison inmates, the mentally handicapped, African-Americans, and Latinos.1 Eugenics, defined by Merriam Webster as “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed” and family planning, the idea that women should limit the number of children they have, have been driving factors in efforts to forcibly sterilize marginalized communities.2
In the film, No Más Bebés (No More Babies), award-winning filmmaker, Renee Tajima-Peña, tells the story of Latina women unknowingly sterilized in the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.3 The hour-long documentary tells a David and Goliath type tale of the Madrigal v. Quilligan class action suit in which 10 of the women sterilized in the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center sued Dr. Edward James Quilligan, the lead doctor at the Center representing the obstetricians.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Latina immigrant women, primarily Mexican, were going into the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center to give birth, but were also receiving forced sterilizations in the form of tubal ligations, more colloquially referred to having one’s tubes tied. These women were being coerced into consenting to having tubal ligations because the information was not presented in a manner or at a time that they could fully understand. For example, the consent forms were written in English and were full of medical and legal jargon. A recent immigrant to the United States with less-than fluent English capacity would have difficulty understanding what signing the form meant. Moreover, patients were often asked to sign in the middle of labor or were told if they did not sign a consent form, they would die.4
Although the women lost the case, they were victorious in the end. The Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center changed its practices of tubal ligation by making the consent forms available in multiple languages and patients under 21 years of age would be given three days to decide.
Furthermore, this film deals with themes of family and the rights women have to make choices about their bodies. The struggle for reproductive rights these women undertook is part of a greater fight for the civil rights movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Overall, No Más Bebés artfully explains how being forcibly sterilized and therefore losing the freedom to decide how many children to have impacted these women’s families, identities, and lives as a whole.
1. Garcia, Saudi. "8 Shocking Facts about Sterilization in U.S. History." Mic. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. Available at: <http://mic.com/articles/53723/8-shocking-facts-about-sterilization-in-u-....
2. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. Available at: <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eugenics>.
3. "Home." No Más Bebés. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. Availble at: <http://www.nomasbebesmovie.com/>.
4. No Más Bebés. Dir. Renee Tajima-Peña. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.