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Lopez, Iris. “Agency and Constraint: Sterilization and Reproductive Freedom among Puerto Rican Women in New York City” Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems of World Economic Development.” The Institute, Inc. 22, no. 3/4 (1993): 299–323.


This article takes a look at multi-generational experiences with sterilization among Puerto Rican women in New York, contextualizing agency and constraint within historical and current political, social, and economic forces. Engaging oral histories with Puerto Rican families, the author combines multi-generational accounts of sterilization with survey data and participant observation, taking an anthropological approach to data collection. Deliberately avoiding the discourse of choice, the author instead talks about “elements of resistance,” where sterilization is neither forced on women nor chosen from a full range of reproductive options. “Elements of resistance” captures the complexity of sterilization as both a source of empowerment and oppression for her study participants. While the large majority of the women she interviewed described sterilization as their decision to control their fertility, they also talked about the impossibility of raising more children in poverty, living in high-crime areas with few support resources. Women described issues they had with other birth control methods and also misconceptions they had regarding the permanence of sterilization. A number thought it a reversible intervention, suggesting lack of communication with medical providers. Throughout her article, the author emphasizes the range of individual experiences, while also highlighting common social and economic factors shaping the trend toward sterilization. She closes by arguing that until economic conditions improve for Puerto Ricans living in New York, true reproductive freedom cannot be achieved, as poor women are making choices regarding raising and supporting a family among limited options to care for their wellbeing. This article highlights the multiple issues involved when talking about reproductive freedom by delving in depth into the experiences of a group of women living in poverty in New York, exploring the sociopolitical context of their reproductive decisions.  


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Related Topics

Intersectionality   Race/ethnicity: Latina/Hispanic   Sterilization