Paying Poor Women for Sterilization

This is absolutely disgusting.

Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo is considering proposing a plan that would pay poor women $1,000 to be sterilized. He has said the program would be voluntary, could involve sterilization of both women and men, could encourage other forms of birth control, and could include tax incentives that would encourage people in higher socio-economic classes to have more children.

LaBruzzo told the The Times-Picayune that what he is “really studying is any and all possibilities that we can [use to] reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare.” After witnessing the evacuations from hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, he told the New Orleans City Business that he “realized that all these people were in Louisiana’s care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state…I said, ‘I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.”

Yeah, you read that right: A politician is creating economic incentives for poor people to have fewer children, and for rich people to have more. I support making sterilization and all other form of birth control free and accessible, so that they truly are voluntary — but paying poor women $1,000 to tie their tubes doesn’t sound like “voluntary” birth control to me. It sounds like coercion.

And it sounds like racist coercion. There’s an established history of targeting poor women and women of color for sterilization and long-term birth control in an effort to stem the birth rate among “undeserving” mothers, and prevent more “unwanted” children. There’s also a history of coercing and sometimes forcing “fit” women (that is, white, rich women) to reproduce against their will, for the good of the country/the white race/the culture.

So this isn’t surprising, and it fits pretty well into the right-wing framework — but it’s still horrendous and appalling policy. And while I’m all about starting conversations, the idea that poor people shouldn’t reproduce — and should in fact be bribed into undergoing surgery that will prevent them from doing so — isn’t one that should have any place in an enlightened society.

BFP, posting at Elle PhD, has much, much more about eugenics, reproductive violence, and what women, families and communities actually need. Head over and read her post for a more thorough explanation of why this matters.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy, Race & Ethnicity, Racism, Reproductive Rights and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Paying Poor Women for Sterilization

  1. Sam says:

    Gross, terrible, ugh. There are simply no words.

  2. Nia says:

    Wow. It seems that someone has to suggest this periodically and I’m just as shocked every time.

    Now, what I think might be a good idea would be to offer a bit less money to _any_ woman who wished to be sterilised. An amount of money that didn’t act as an incentive but as a compensation for transport to the clinic, a couple of days of sick leave, etc. I’m thinking of thise because in Spain, it’s illegal to sell organs, eggs, sperm or blood. They must be donated. But egg donation is so inconvenient that donors are given small compensations.

  3. ElleBeMe says:

    From all I have seen and read lately, I think you are a bit too optimistic in your claims that we live in an enlightened society….

    In enlightened societies, this kind of shit doesn’t get press…people who utter such bullshit don’t get elected…and the people of the land don’t sit idly by while their government takes their monies and hands it over to corporate masters. Just because we have elctricity, drive cars and have purchasing power (well maybe not anymore) doesn’t mean we’re enlightened. With policies as they are, we’re just a step above the original “enlightenment” of the end of the middle ages.

    End Rant.

  4. Bagelsan says:

    “what he is ‘really studying is any and all possibilities that we can [use to] reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare.'”

    Eugenics-style sterilization might *seem* drastic, but some kind of educational/job training/free medical care/what-have-you to give people more options and maybe get people into jobs that allow them to support themselves would just be *crazy* talk!

  5. Virginia says:

    Thanks for posting about this. I heard about it on my local NPR station a week ago and then forgot about it. I wish he represented my district so I could vote against him.

  6. JPlum says:

    Is this $1000 on top of the cost of the procedure? Because I’m pretty sure getting your tubes tied costs more than a grand. It involves general anaesthetic, for goodness sake!

    “He has said the program would be voluntary, could involve sterilization of both women and men, could encourage other forms of birth control, and could include tax incentives that would encourage people in higher socio-economic classes to have more children.”

    Seriously? Encourage the higher socio-economic classes to have more children? That’s your solution to poverty? Also, how, exactly, do you go about encouraging people to have children? Have a maximum income cut-off in order to obtain condoms, and the pill? Outlaw abortions for any woman whose family makes more than…$50,000/year?

    And what are these ‘other forms of birth control’? Would they include abortion?

  7. Soma says:

    The guy’s photo looks like he’s about 16, which makes sense because this sounds exactly like the kind of thing a male high school sophomore would suggest in debate class. Hopefully he’ll mature a bit when he’s grown up.

  8. elle says:

    Jill,

    Thanks for the link and spreading the word, but BfP gets credit for that one. She’s posting at my place, too.

  9. Jill says:

    Well that’s what I get for not reading the name at the end of the post. Fixed so that BFP gets the proper credit. Thanks Elle!

  10. Politicalguineapig says:

    I think I also saw this over at Feministing and Womanist Musings had a good discussion about this- just giving a heads up

  11. Scott says:

    My favorite fact is that he represents the same district as David Duke once did. Gee, I wonder if the GOP is subtly trying to stoke racism.

  12. leficent says:

    Michigan has something similar to what he is proposing, but I think that we managed to do it right.

    Plan First is a program for low income women that pays, through a state grant, for yearly pap smears and exams, treatment for STI’s, contraceptives (pills, the nuvaring, the shot), IUD’s and sterilization ( only for those over 21, all other services are for women 19-44 ).

    The big difference is that instead of offering a financial incentive for giving up ones reproductive potential, this program offers to pay for the COMPREHENSIVE reproductive health of women who lack insurance, yet are not eligible for Medicaid. My impression when I learned about it was not that the state wanted to prevent me from having children, but that the state wanted to help me stay healthy.

    I used this grant through planned parenthood while I was in school- it saved me the out of pocket expense of getting my yearly exam and covering my contraceptives. While 300 or 400 bucks a year may not be much to some, it was a world of help to me, since I had zero insurance and still had enough income to be priced out of other aid options.

    I think LaBruzzo does not understand that effective public health initiates do not need to be punitive or coercive to be effective.

  13. Renee says:

    For those that missed it here is a link to the racist bastard on cnn justifying sterilization. The reporter does a half descent job of handing him his ass.

  14. Renee says:

    @politicalguineapig….yeah thanks for the shoutout. I covered it here, and followed with his interview on CNN here.

  15. Pingback: John LaBruzzo Wants to Bribe Poor Women to be Sterilized « Women’s Health News

  16. Brandi says:

    The CNN video is excellent. I particularly enjoy when she points out that families without children in La have higher poverty rates than families with children, and then he tries to blame “the media” for making this an issue.

    This type of thing, sadly, no longer shocks me. I, too, would love to see FREE sterilization – heck, free healthcare all around – available, but somehow that’s anathema while this type of “incentive” merits a serious discussion.

  17. Mary says:

    Of course, women who WANT to be sterilized can’t because we don’t know our own minds. This kind of crap drives me crazy. The state gets to decide who can and cannot make choices about their reproduction. Of course they’d want me to reproduce being white and upper middle class. I guess I’m messing up their perfect little plan.

  18. preying mantis says:

    “Of course, women who WANT to be sterilized can’t because we don’t know our own minds.”

    Pretty much. Push the “right” people to breed, and trick the “wrong” people out of their fertility.

    In a sane world, the state would be interested in striking the middle ground between making sure everyone who wants to be sterilized can be and doing their best not to provide an economic incentive to have a tubal/vasectomy when you don’t really want one. I’ve had similar thoughts as Nia up at 3:44–it doesn’t do a poor woman much good to say that she can get a free tubal if she can’t come up with the resources to get to the clinic or through a proper recovery. You see the same situation with poor women seeking abortion in low-access states; if you tack on too many expenses and incidentals, you push it out of reach. It’s the same as telling a poor woman she can get free pills or free condoms or free prenatal care or free anything else, provided she’s got the time and money and childcare options to travel during business hours once or twice a month to avail herself of it.

  19. Angela says:

    I’m curious about this one, how does an “enlighten society” reconcile that it should be OK to terminate a pregancy in the 9th month, but finds itself appalled at the idea of sterilizing oneself regardless to how the method was offered?

  20. Jill says:

    I don’t know, Angela; show me where a legal abortion has ever been performed in the ninth month of pregnancy and we’ll talk.

  21. Sailorman says:

    Paying for them undoubtedly involves some moral hazard. But I would be all for making sterilizations, vasectomies*, B/C, and abortions free for everyone who wants them.

    *Most health insurance will already pay for a vasectomy now. mine did, and it is not so hot. And even if you don’t have insurance, there are a variety of other funding options that I found, including assistance programs that will subsidize them. This makes sense, since vasectomies are very low risk, quite effective, and extremely cheap.

  22. UGH! While I would like sterilization to be available to those who want it, coercion of the poor just isn’t right.

  23. Misspelled says:

    “A politician is creating economic incentives for poor people to have fewer children, and for rich people to have more.”

    And here I thought their precious free market took care of that. Like there isn’t already a tangible incentive to not having eight kids when you can’t afford to run the dishwasher, Representative LaFuckingDipshit.

  24. Angela says:

    Jill,

    I asked the question because serveral femiste(sp?) sites (including this one) and Planned Parenthood gives the impression that a woman should have unstricted access regardless to the stage of development and the mother’s overall health.

    Now, I donot know of any “stories” per se, but I have read some arguments that go back and forth on whether a woman suffering from “mental illness” should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy in her last month to relieve her of further distress.

    PS. If you ever get a chance, go over to “the Nation” website (trolled mostly by men) and they will tell you they are in favor of a woman terminating her pregnancy for what ever reason, regardless of the stage of development.

  25. Rebecca (liberal!Rebecca) says:

    Wheeeeee, anti-choice trolls.

    How about that since you do not know a woman’s reason for needing to terminate this hypothetical pregnancy in the ninth month, and since politicians do not know a woman’s reason for needing to terminate this hypothetical pregnancy in the ninth month, everyone who’s not involved just stays out of it?

  26. Sailorman says:

    Angela,

    That is my view, actually (abortions should be available in all circumstances) but it is in truth mostly a theoretical one. In practice it is a nonissue. I would happily bet that the number of 9th month abortions performed across the U.S. is FAR FAR less than 0.00036 percent of all abortions performed.* I do not believe that it is worth getting in an argument about something which occurs, if at all, in such a small percentage of cases.

    * Actually, I believe it is closer to zero and that it may actually be zero. But just to be superduper safe and avoid the “that number isn’t high enough!” argument, I have assumed five per year (!) and used the Guttmacher statistics of 1,370,000 abortions yearly in the US.

  27. Rebecca (liberal!Rebecca) says:

    Oh, and Angela? The spelling is “feminist.”

  28. To expand a bit on what Sailorman said (and on what I said):

    Dude, no one gets abortions in the ninth month. It would be a stupid idea for a woman to get an abortion three weeks before delivery because she’s feeling a bit down – it’s, at that point, no less harmful than delivery. Do you think women are stupid?

    Unless, of course, there’s a serious health issue. (on the part of the woman or the part of the fetus) And you’re not qualified to decide what’s serious.

  29. kate says:

    This fuckwit bases his entire argument on the premise that welfare is “generational” when in fact, even at the most liberal of times, welfare was always the economic choice of last resort, used by the most alienated and most often no longer than one generation and at an average of two years.

    When you base your entire theory on bullshit, how on earth can you expect anything other than bullshit to come from it?

    The reporter in the CNN interview was quite well composed and professional, I could never have been. I like also how he kept backing away from the whole thing, by saying, “Its just one of the many ideas we had…” She should have retorted back (I would have), “But the fact that such an idea even gets discussion among people who are supposed to know their constituents’ lives is what is most astounding.” I would have then followed by asking him if he was familiar with the poverty rate in his own district and if he knows any of those people personally, “Have you visited those areas before?”

    God, would someone please ask these morons questions like that?!

  30. kate says:

    Additionally, after the passage of Welfare Reform in 1995, this whole “generational welfare” thing is simply a non-issue. Applicants are immediately required to do job searches or provide “good cause” for their inability to do so, are pushed constantly to move into the job market and workers are pushed to find reasons to cut them off at every turn.

    The Feds also passed within the WRA of 1995, the stipulation that one can only receive a total of five years of assistance, whether five years altogether or sporadically over time, the clock ticks.

    Newt Gingrich gave these dopes what they wanted and they still aren’t satisfied that the po’ folks have paid enough. They won’t be until they see emaciated women and children living in cardboard boxes and begging on the boulevard.

  31. Echolalia says:

    Angela: Sweet Mother of God, think about it for a minute! You seriously think that a doctor is going to perform an abortion on a healthy fetus at 36 weeks gestation when they have the option of inducing labor or performing a c-section? Please explain to me why you think that a woman or her doctor would go for the first option when the latter two options would accomplish the goal more than adequately.

    It drives me crazy to hear women mindlessly parrot the faux-life talking points without thinking about whether or not they make sense in the real word.

  32. Rabbit says:

    Hey now everyone, ease up on Angela. She’s heard “stories” of women suffering from “mental illnesses”. I mean, “stories”! That’s practically the same thing as “facts”, amiright?

    Regarding Representative LaFuckingdipshit, just another example of how a good idea (subsidized health care, birth control available to all who want it) goes to shit when a dumbfuck republican gets his or her sweaty mitts on it.

  33. JPlum says:

    Angela, we have no abortion law in Canada (seriously, no law-it’s in the same category as any other medical procedure, a matter for the woman and her doctor). And you know what? We haven’t had an increase in late-term abortions at all. Because, even without laws banning it no woman, decides to abort in the 9th month (or the 8th, or the 7th) because she can’t fit into her prom dress. And if you could find that one woman who DID want to abort in order to fit into her prom dress, no doctor would do it.

    Really, we have no laws governing abortion, even up to and past viability, and it turns out women aren’t idiots, and neither are their doctors, and we don’t have viable, healthy fetuses being aborted left, right, and centre. Recently, there’s been some whining ‘But every other country has an abortion law!!!1!! Why can’t we have one?’ Well, because we’ve proved abortion laws to be unnecessary.

  34. Angela says:

    Rebecca, I never said nor implied women are stupid. And for the most medically horrific cases, IDX are preformed because deformaties and abnormalities are almost always detected in the last trimester. One more thing, unless you’re in the mental healthcare profession, you can never quantify the irrational behavior of someone with mental illness as “stupid”. If anything, it should give you reason to pause.

    No Rabbit you’re not right.

    Echolalia, my original question was more of an ethical one.

    JPlum, try living in India, China, Pakistan or even South Korea where having a daughter is still problematic. Perhaps someone here will write a story on the most horrific gender discrimation of all time – female infanticide.

  35. Sailorman says:

    Angela says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 10:11 am
    …for the most medically horrific cases, IDX are preformed because deformities and abnormalities are almost always detected in the last trimester

    Um, no they’re not. They are very frequently detected in the first trimester, and many more are detected around 20 weeks, which is long before the third trimester. The level 2 ultrasound catches a lot of stuff and that is 18-22 weeks.

    Some of them escape detection, but most of them are caught early, assuming that (1) the parents want to try to find them, and (2) there are adequate reproductive health services available.

    And not only that, but “third trimester” /= “ninth month,” of course.

  36. JPlum says:

    Angela, what have India, China, etc. got to do with anything I said? What has female infanticide (or abortion, if it’s prior to birth) in other countries got to do with Canada’s extremely successful complete lack of laws restricting abortion? Yes, selecting for gender, and aborting female fetuses or exposing female babies is problematic, and has led to demographic imbalances, and that has to do with Canada not having any abortion laws…how, exactly?

  37. Echolalia says:

    Angela, I suffered a pretty severe episode of mental illness during my pregnancy (suicidally depressed). I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake by getting pregnant and that I had ruined my son’s life before he was even born. You know what irrational, mentally ill, little old me did?

    I went to my doctor, told her what was going on. Do you know what she suggested? Going back on my antidepressants and getting counseling. Imagine that – she actually thought that the least medically invasive treatment option (medication + counseling) was the best treatment for my medical problem. I know, totally shocking!

    Being mentally ill doesn’t make you entirely incapable of making logical choices. Doctors don’t suggest abortions as a first line of treatment to resolve any and all health problems. It’s time for you and your other forced gestation whackadoodles to drop the “crazy woman gets abortion two days before her due date” scenario. It’s insulting to women in general and women with mental illnesses in particular.

  38. balom says:

    I don’t see what is the big deal. Nobody is dragged kicking and screaming to the operating table. The program is on a voluntary basis. And if anyone would agree to be sterilized for 1000 dollars they probably shouldn’t have children anyway.

  39. JPlum says:

    balom, what you’re missing is the context. ‘Civilized’ countries like the USA have a history of forcing sterilization on the ‘unfit’-like brown people, and people with epilepsy. It was called eugenics, and though it grew out of noble ideals (making the human race stronger, healthier etc.) in practice it was anything but noble, and at it’s worst it became known as the Holocaust.

    This recommendation wasn’t made in a vacuum, it stems from racism and to a certain extent classism. Racism is the dominant element-if you scratch the surface of someone recommending sterilizing the poor, and encouraging the rich to breed, you almost always find that it’s really the brown folk whose population they want to keep down.

  40. Angela says:

    Jill, I mentioned those countries, because like Canada, they too have no laws in place banning abortions regardless of the stage of development.

  41. JPlum says:

    They do, however, have laws in place regarding gender-testing, and they are completely ineffective. Basically, you can’t regulate reproduction.

  42. Angela says:

    Echolalia, you still didn’t understand my question. That’s ok. On the other hand, not once did I imply anything regarding “forced gestation”, as you put it. Don’t make assumptions.

    I’m totally overjoyed that you truly did not harm yourself. You were certainly most fortunate to have a physician who understood your mental health issues and not have you put under supervision in a mental health facility.

  43. Rebecca says:

    ^ What Echolalia and Sailorman said.

    Female infanticide happens in societies where females are valued less than males – the kind of society that people like you want to preserve.
    (By the way, abortion is illegal in Pakistan and South Korea, for the most part; I don’t know where you’re getting your information from.)

  44. Rebecca says:

    If you will not allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy, you are forcing her to gestate. It’s that simple.

  45. Angela says:

    Rebecca, Jill was the only one here who answered my question honestly. Can you? The reason I asked that question was to understand why one form of “choice” is met with such contempt and another choice is not?

  46. Rebecca says:

    Angela dahling, your question has been answered many times over. I’ll quote JPlum:

    “‘Civilized’ countries like the USA have a history of forcing sterilization on the ‘unfit’-like brown people, and people with epilepsy. It was called eugenics, and though it grew out of noble ideals (making the human race stronger, healthier etc.) in practice it was anything but noble, and at it’s worst it became known as the Holocaust.

    This recommendation wasn’t made in a vacuum, it stems from racism and to a certain extent classism. Racism is the dominant element-if you scratch the surface of someone recommending sterilizing the poor, and encouraging the rich to breed, you almost always find that it’s really the brown folk whose population they want to keep down.”

    In short, the problem isn’t voluntary sterilization – in fact, if you’ll listen to people, you’ll notice a great deal of frustration because doctors refuse to sterilize women who want it. (If they’re well-off and white, of course.) The problem is that this congressman is trying to coerce minority women out of their fertility.

  47. JPlum says:

    Angela, what choice are we treating with contempt? The choice not to have an abortion? The choice to have your tubes tied? The choice not to have your tubes tied? Where have we shown contempt for anything but this State Rep.’s thinly veiled racist eugenics proposal, and for some people’s belief that women shouldn’t have choices? Seriously, where?

  48. Echolalia says:

    Angela, I understand your question perfectly well: ” Why are you all concerned about situation ‘B’ when you are all obviously okay with strawman situation ‘A’ ?” Your original question was illogical and intellectually dishonest. Then you threw in the “crazy pregnant lady getting an abortion cuz’ she’s really bummed out” scenario. As a once pregnant lady who actually had that experience, I described how that particular situation plays out in real life.

    There is a huge difference between supporting a governmental policy that would pressure a poor woman into relinquishing her reproductive future for a pittance, and legal protections that allow a woman and her doctor to decide whether or not a pregnancy should be terminated. I don’t trust politicians to make good decisions about the reproductive health of myself and others. I do, however, think that the overwhelming majority of pregnant women and the doctors who treat them try to make well thought out decisions based on medical facts and ethical principles.

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