I want to have children some day. In fact, I can already picture my children, their names already written on a piece of paper I keep tucked away in a journal. As odd as it is for a twenty-year-old college student to say, they already have a place in my heart. I’ll admit it’s a tad crazy to have these thoughts at such a young age, when the world has so much to offer me and my sole responsibility at the moment is to graduate. But, this very knowledge that such a dream can come true one day is a notion I cherish dearly.
I treasure it, not because it is a wonderful way to entertain myself when I have no idea what my professor is talking about in class, but because it reminds me of how privileged I am to know that I am the one in charge of my body and that I am the one who decides if I will have children-- not the government, my future partner, or my family. This sense of power is one that I’ve been able to exercise, as have thousands of women, because rights are (for the most part) cherished and respected in American society.
Unfortunately, this was not always the case. In the early 1920s, the American judicial system deemed compulsory sterilization constitutional on the grounds that the government had to protect women from partaking in a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity. The court assumed that sterilizing certain women would protect future, potential children from being born into a world of poverty by an unfit mother. In an era in which the eugenics movement was at its prime, the Supreme Court believed that women who were seen as "unfit" or mentally retarded, even promiscuous, would pass down their “heinous” traits to their children, thereby creating a domino-effect of a degrading new generation. The court reasoned that the only way to prevent the creation of future generations made up of “imbeciles,” was to stop "imbecile" women from reproducing.
It is shocking to learn that this occurred in a country that prides itself in acknowledging freedom and the protection of rights. But, what is more astonishing is knowing that women who were categorized by the court as “unfit” were literally dragged, kicking and screaming, into a hospital for compulsory sterilization, some of them not even knowing the procedure was being done to them. Imagine having the ability to have your own child in your arms stripped from you…consider never having the opportunity to know what it feels like to be a mother and love a tiny human being with all your might… I ask you to think of this, because sadly enough, it has happened to many women in the past.
Though our society has progressed and such thoughts are seen as absurd, there is still the possibility of women being forced to undergo sterilization! The case that made sterilization obligatory, Buck v. Bell, was never overruled. This means that if the government suddenly had the wild idea of sterilizing women for the “good of the country”, it could do so. Granted, modern society probably would not support the court if it did choose to reinstate Buck v. Bell as adamantly as it did in the 1920s. Regardless, even the faintest possibility is a disgusting breech of our rights. How much control of over our own bodies do we really have?
I’ve wondered from time to time what would happen if the government suddenly did a 360 and forced women to renounce their right to give birth... It’s a chilling thought to envision women in a position of suppression, especially when we have been taught to see ourselves as equals.
The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer!