It’s Women’s Day. Why Are Some Women Now Choosing Sterilization?

France's landmark constitutional affirmation of abortion rights elicits a spectrum of reactions, igniting a pivotal discourse on the nexus between reproductive freedoms and female welfare.

March 06, 2024 11:16 EDT
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Dear FO° Reader,

On Monday, March 4, France entrenched the right to abortion in its constitution with a 780 to 72 vote in parliament.

Should we celebrate France and its historic decision to entrench the right to abortion? When the motion passed in the National Assembly, parliamentarians indulged in a standing ovation. Yet anger at the decision runs deep in many places. Even among my colleagues, some oppose abortion totally, and others support it only under very strict conditions. And this is fine. We are here to open a conversation. 

Credit: Laura Kneedler / shutterstock.com

It would be interesting to study how emotions drive politics. And what is more emotional than saving lives? The emotional argument in favor of legalizing abortion is simple: It saves women’s lives. When abortion was illegal in many countries, especially Christian ones, too many women died because of botched medical procedures. Note that women have been coerced into giving birth, into having sexual relationships and so many more oppressive treatments for centuries.

Illegal abortions are dangerous

Why do I bring up abortion in this piece? Because it resonates with my values, and because legalizing abortion saves women’s lives.

One can object that while legal, medically safe abortion may save women’s lives, it certainly does not save the lives of fetuses or embryos. I make no pretensions that I can answer the question of when life begins. Does life begin at the moment of conception, or implantation, or quickening, or birth?

This is not a piece about when life begins but about the fact that making abortion illegal does not mean it stops. Abortions carry on regardless. They just go underground. Statistics tell us that illegal abortions are highly unsafe. We also know that demand for abortions does not disappear if society makes them illegal. So, legalizing them is a sane, rational and just thing to do.

I believe that the state has no right to impose its laws on women’s bodies. A woman undergoing an unwanted pregnancy — in the most extreme case, one conceived in rape — experiences the state’s prohibition on abortion as violence. This is fundamentally unjust.

In my view, the law should make abortion possible in a safe environment with trained physicians and surgeons, and even psychotherapy and social services to support those who want to make the choice. This will save more lives than a blanket ban. Many women who have suffered rape or incest will try and circumvent the abortion ban come what may — even at the cost of their own lives.

These bans do not achieve the purpose of protecting unborn babies because illegal abortions kill them anyway. Sometimes, they also kill the mother. So, these laws must have a different purpose to what they claim. More likely than not, these laws are intended to control the lives and the wills of women.

Why are young people sterilizing themselves?

In the 20th century, many states attempted to control women’s bodies through compulsory medical interventions. One particularly horrific example was Puerto Rico, a small territory of Latino people who were denied self-determination, and found itself under the control of the US. Benedetta Calandra’s delves into how the US government carried out a project of forced sterilization on the island. Puerto Rico became a testing ground for America’s “modernizing obsession” in the early- to mid-20th century. Eugenist ideologies were very much in vogue at the time, and the Puerto Rican experience would later go on to be repeated in Nazi Germany. Yet, at the same time, the American eugenics movement also produced Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood.

Sterilization of Latina by States

Those who oppose legalizing abortion out of fears of the past must remember that, these days, it is often women who choose to undergo sterilization and fight for the legal right to do so. One young woman in my circle chose sterilization because she believes that having children makes little sense in today’s world. Many young people have adopted a radically pessimistic worldview and do not want to be parents anymore. 

We should engage in a conversation with such young people and understand their motivations. Many women don’t think they can bear the psychological and physical burden of an unwanted or imposed pregnancy. In large parts of the world, the support system of both the family and the state is broken. Furthermore, many do not want to take responsibility for a new life in a viciously capitalist economy where the cost of bringing up a child is atrociously expensive. They also worry about the looming environmental disaster thanks to climate change.

Instead of banning abortions or sterilizations, we should ask ourselves what went wrong. Why do so many young women not want children anymore?

Instead of taking doctrinaire positions and using the state to limit individual rights and freedoms, let us talk about serious things, including why women are choosing abortion or avoiding pregnancy altogether. 

Sincerely, 

Roberta Campani
Communications and Outreach

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