Eugenics and Reproductive Coercion in Puerto Rico

Starting in the 1950s, Puerto Rican women were coerced into sterilization and used as test subjects in developing the modern birth control pill. They were targeted primarily due to issues of eugenics and were not given much, if any, information about either “la operación” or the pill and written off as “unreliable” when describing serious side effects. Ana María García’s 1981 film La Operación tells the story of the women subject to these programs which resulted in 1/3 of all Puerto Rican women having been surgically sterilizedFind the film here.

Author Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote a piece in The Nation about her own grandmother’s coerced sterilizationfound here. Dartmouth’s journals feature an article discussing both the Puerto Rican case and sterilizations in Los Angeles, highlighted in No Más Bebés. Finally, the Dig History Podcast looks at the wider history of sterilization in Latinx women, including Chicanas and the important colonial context. Find that episode here.

People such as Margaret Sanger (founder of what would become Planned Parenthood) and Dr. Clarence Gamble (founder of Pathfinder International) were involved in the pill trials, which also brought up issues of informed consent. The Harvard Crimson has more information on the background of the birth control pill, and The Atlantic dives deeper into the team behind the program.

M. Estrella Sotomayor, Senior Lecturer in the UWM Department of Spanish and Portuguese, wrote a dissertation entitled “Reproductive Rights in Puerto Rico: Sterilization, Contraception, and Reproductive Violence” that will be available for download on the UWM Digital Commons later this year.