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Gutierrez, Elena R., Georgina Feldberg, Molly Ladd-Taylor, Alison Li, and Kathryn McPherson. “Policing ‘Pregnant Pilgrims’: Welfare, Health Care and the Control of Mexican-Origin.” In In Women, Health and Nation: The U.S. and Canada since 1945, 379–403. Montreal and Kinston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003.


The article examines the forced sterilizations of Mexican-origin women at the Los Angeles County Medical Center during the late 60s and early 70s, which was part of a broader phenomenon of coercive sterilizations of poor women of color in the U.S. during those years. The author argues that although sterilization abuse was a national phenomenon, driven by fears of overpopulation and of the rise in welfare costs, the groups of women targeted in various parts of the country differed greatly in their characteristics and circumstances, and in the ideologies motivating and underlying the sterilization abuse. Specifically, Gutierrez maintains that anti-immigrant ideologies were a unique key factor in the forced sterilizations of Mexican-origin women in California. The article summarizes the background and factors contributing to the national “epidemic” of sterilization, and goes on to focus on the sterilizations at USC-Los Angeles County Medical Center. It describes the varied ways in which the medical staff coerced patients, many of them during active labor, to undergo sterilization, and the class-action civil rights suit filed by a number of those women in 1975 (Madrigal v. Quilligan). The author stresses that the lawsuit was a significant moment in Chicana and Latina campaigns for reproductive freedom, because of the unique collaboration between health professionals, lawyers, and community activists. Although the judgment in the lawsuit was against the plaintiffs, this remarkable collaboration led to significant gains in the battle against forced sterilizations, in particular the adoption of new guidelines intended to make sure women will give a truly informed consent. The article offers a clear, detailed, and insightful discussion on the particular ideology and mechanisms unique to the attacks on Mexican-origin women’s reproductive autonomy. The author stresses the importance of understanding those specific characteristics in light of the continuing efforts to control immigrant women’s reproductive behavior and points out the key role that Mexican-origin women have played in fighting those efforts.


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Coalitions   Legal case   Race/ethnicity: Latina/Hispanic   Sterilization   Population control