Though the Women’s Movement has been going on officially since the 19th century, we most commonly remember this movement by the 1960s-1980s idea (The Second Wave). During this time, many issues were brought to people’s attention. A main topic in this movement was female reproductive rights, but what isn’t talked about is the coerced sterilization that many poverty stricken women (mostly women of color) were subjected to.
A good example of this topic is the federal court case Relf v. Weinberger.
In 1964, an organization called the Community Action Programs (CAPs) was made in order to “help” low-income families become more self-sufficient. The Relf family was a candidate for this program and the family was put into a housing project and were persuaded to use specific social services. Family planning was among those programs and through this program, Katie, 16, Mary Alice, 14, and Minnie, 12, were brought to doctors and their illiterate mother was told that the girls would receive “some shots” and the mother signed the papers allowing this action to occur.
What happened next to the young girls was absolutely inexcusable. A doctor attempted to give them Depo-Provera, which was not approved by the FDA at the time. In the end, Katie was given an IUD and the two younger sisters, Minnie and Mary Alice, were sterilized.
After a lawyer explained to the family what had happened to the girls, the case was taken to court and the federally funded program was dismissed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit because the Department of Health and Welfare issued new regulations on this family planning program.
This case is not uncommon and many women were forcibly made to be sterilized because of the government’s coercion. The Women’s Movement may seem to many as a radical or ridiculous group, but in truth, the movement (which is not finished!) has made leaps in people’s quality of life and this should be known by all people.