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Davis, Angela. “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights.” In Women, Race and Class, 202–71. London, England: The Women’s Press, 1982.


This path-breaking chapter details the ways in which the abortion rights movement of the 1970s failed to examine the historical context of race and the birth control movement. Davis draws on historical data, such as the disproportionate number of black women who died from illegal abortions prior to legalization and the prevalence of self-induced abortions among black slaves, to argue that women of color are very much aware of the need for abortion rights, contrary to the movement’s claims. She notes the contrast between abortion rights and being an abortion advocate, arguing that women of color understand and believe in the need for abortion rights, but still recognize and deplore the social conditions that often make abortion necessary for them. The author goes on to discuss Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Lothrop Stoddard, the Relf sisters, and other historical figures, policies and activities that actively promoted the use of sterilization and birth control as a means of eugenics, in order to maintain white, upper-class dominance. It was the failure of the birth control movement of the 1970s, the author argues, to recognize and discuss this historical context. Specifically, Davis suggests that white women’s continued hesitance to denounce sterilization abuses – due in part to their own difficulty in becoming sterilized, if they so desire, because of white pronatalism – allows sterilization abuse to persist to this day. She calls on white women to support campaigns against sterilization abuse, whatever the inconvenience to them might be. 


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Legislation/policy   Government regulation   Legal case   Human rights   Abortion   Contraception/birth control   Sterilization   History   Population control   Eugenics