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Redefining Reproductive Rights in an Age of Cultural Revolution

Flores, Stephanie

Since this country’s founding, women of color have had little control over their reproductive freedom. In 1973 two young African American girls, ages fourteen and twelve, were forcibly sterilized in the state of Mississippi. The lawsuit that followed brought national attention to the issue of coercive sterilization in the United States. This paper explores the development of the definition of reproductive rights and pays particular attention to black women's experience of reproductive rights starting with the introduction of birth control into the national discourse by Margaret Sanger and contamination of this discourse by theories of eugenics and decisions of the national government in cases such as Buck vs. Bell. With the introduction of coercive sterilization into national tactics for population control, birth control became a dubious topic for African Americans and negatively impacted black women's experience of birth control. I explain how these policies affected black organizations' views of birth control and women's roles within the civil rights and nationalist movements. This paper centers on the discussion and policies of organizations such as the Nation of Islam, NAACP, Black Panthers, SNCC and black women's responses to these attitudes. The infringement upon black women's reproductive rights ultimately led to the creation of a more comprehensive definition of reproductive rights by black feminist organizations and a demand for policies and attitudes that would take black women's unique perspectives into consideration.

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Athena Center for Leadership Studies
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Center for Digital Research and Scholarship
Published Here
October 14, 2015