The Big Picture

By: Hayley Walton

During the 1960’s and 1970’s an alarming number of surgical sterilization procedures were being performed on Native American women ranging from the ages of fifteen to forty-four years old (Genocide).   These unusually high numbers drew a significant amount of attention and controversy towards the American Indian community.


These procedures were being performed by the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federally funded program that was established to address the health care issues of American Indians.  In 1965, the IHS began offering Native American families with family planning services. These services included providing women with information on the various types of birth control such as how they work and how to use them.   The family planning services were introduced as a way for the U.S. government, along with the IHS, to address the high birth rate among American Indians.   The family services program was supposed to only provide information about the different methods of birth control and, unless the woman had a medical condition that had specific requirements, the woman was supposed to choose whether or not she wanted to participate in the program and if so, what method of birth control she wanted to use.  This is where the controversy arises…

In the early 1970’s more and more Native American women began asking questions about the procedures that had been done on them.   In some cases the women had no idea that the procedure was irreversible, and in one case, a women even came to a clinic asking for a “womb transplant” because she was falsely told that she could have one when she decided that she wanted to have more children (Genocide).  It soon became apparent that a distressing amount of Native American women had been given false information on the procedure itself as well as the implications surrounding it.

Here’s a YouTube video that talks a little bit about the legislation behind the family planning services as well as the sterilization controversy:


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