Matters of Choice

Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women's Struggle for Reproductive Freedom

Iris Lopez
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj277
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  • Book Info
    Matters of Choice
    Book Description:

    In Matters of Choice, Iris Lopez presents a comprehensive analysis of the dichotomous views that have portrayed sterilization either as part of a coercive program of population control or as a means of voluntary, even liberating, fertility control by individual women. Drawing upon her twenty-five years of research on sterilized Puerto Rican women from five different families in Brooklyn, Lopez untangles the interplay between how women make fertility decisions and their social, economic, cultural, and historical constraints.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4624-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxvi)

    “My first pregnancy was a surprise.” Nancy, a thirty-one-year-old Puerto Rican woman in New York, leaned forward and spoke with a sense of urgency. “I was only seventeen years old at the time. I wasn’t taking the pill on a regular basis. I didn’t feel good taking the pill. I also tried the coil, but it got to the point where I could hardly walk from the pain and the doctor took it out. I tried the diaphragm but my husband didn’t like it. I waited three years to have my second baby. I had my kids three years apart....

  5. PART I The Globalization of Sterilization
    • CHAPTER 1 The Birth Control Movement in Puerto Rico
      (pp. 3-19)

      After the Spanish American War in 1898, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines became colonies of the United States. The U.S. rulers were enthralled by the ideology of Manifest Destiny, which promoted American expansion into the lands occupied by nonwhite peoples in the name of a “civilizing” mission. In 1899, one year after the United States took possession of Puerto Rico, neo-Malthusian ideology, based on the revival of the ideas of Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), came into vogue.

      In the eighteenth century, Malthus argued that poverty stemmed from the proliferation of the poor. The neo-Malthusian revival at the turn of...

    • CHAPTER 2 Gender Awareness across Generations
      (pp. 20-42)

      The colonial history of Puerto Rico and the history of birth control on the island have influenced the lives of three generations of women in my study. Despite individual variations, each generation shares certain common orientations that stem from the intersection of their gender, race, age, and class, and are influenced by the era in which they grew up, as well as the sociopolitical environment. Thus, before I move on to the stories of individual families, I would like to consider the common experiences faced by the women of each generation.

      My study focuses on Puerto Rican women living in...

  6. PART II Cultural Continuities and Urban Change
    • CHAPTER 3 The Velez Family: POVERTY, THE CANCER SCARE, AND HYSTERECTOMIES
      (pp. 45-60)

      On a warm summer night in 1981 I walked four long blocks to where Evelyn lives. I was able to walk right into the tenement because of a broken front door. I found the family eating spaghetti and meatballs. Doña Hilda who was then 59 years old, was feeding her two granddaughters. When I inquired about Evelyn, doña Hilda looked at me sideways with a cross look on her face. In a loud, menacing voice, she demanded to know what I wanted with her daughter. I nervously explained my project. After looking me over carefully, she said in a somewhat...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Robles Family: SOCIAL CHANGE AND GENDER STRUGGLE
      (pp. 61-77)

      Early one morning I set out to find doña Rosario. It was a warm and humid August morning, one of those days when you perspire five minutes after you have stepped out of the shower if you do not have air-conditioning. Doña Rosario and her daughters lived in the more dilapidated quarters of the southern part of Bushwick. I walked south from where doña Hilda, Evelyn, Cookie, Frankie, Carlito, and Gabriela lived. Even though I grew up only ten blocks away, I was a stranger to the devastation and destruction that I witnessed here. In New York, one block can...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Gomez Family: UNDER THE KNIFE AGAIN—REVERSING LA OPERACIÓN
      (pp. 78-101)

      The Gomez family is headed by doña Margo and includes her daughters Lourdes and Gladys, and Lourdes’s children, Lizzie, Luisito, and Roberto. This family differs from the Robles and Velez families in that Lourdes underwent a reversal sterilization. Her traumatic experiences with this surgery resonate with the lives of many poor women that have unsuccessfully attempted to have a child after having a tubal ligation. The Gomez family also highlights the complex relationships some women have with men and how men influence their fertility decisions. This case study also exemplifies how systems of reciprocity continue to operate among Puerto Ricans...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Morales and Rivera Families: TOUGH LOVE AND STERILE CHOICES
      (pp. 102-122)

      The story of the Morales family is a remarkable and unusual one. In fact, in all the years I have been doing research, this is the only time I have come across such a situation. Nilda and her husband, Enrique, with the aid of her parents, doña Caridad and don Guillermo, forced their youngest daughter, Millie, to undergo sterilization at the age of seventeen because she was a drug addict and was, in their view, having children irresponsibly. Millie’s family arranged for her to get sterilized to mitigate the economic hardship of child rearing, substance abuse, and unwanted children. This...

  7. PART III Reproductive Rights and an Integral Model of Reproductive Freedom
    • CHAPTER 7 Ideologies and Inequities in the Health Care System
      (pp. 125-141)

      Each semester I give a lecture to my undergraduate classes on sterilization and Puerto Rican women in New York City. And each semester, without fail, several Latina students in my classes mention that they are sterilized. I explore this topic gingerly with them in order to find out the circumstances under which they were sterilized and to further educate them. One of the tools I use is the filmLa Operación. Although it provides an excellent historical overview of the development of sterilization in Puerto Rico, the film is problematic because it presents most Puerto Rican women as victims of...

    • CHAPTER 8 Toward an Integral Model of Reproductive Freedom
      (pp. 142-156)

      A discussion of the ideology of choice is fundamental to any analysis of sterilization. As I noted in the introduction, the ideology of choice is the basis of the fundamental ideal underpinning American society: that we live in a free society, that as individuals we have an infinite number of options from which to choose, and that because all individuals are presumed to be created equally, regardless of race, class, or gender, we all therefore must have equal opportunity to choose. In addition, as individual free agents, we are purportedly capable of making good choices to increase our options by...

  8. Appendix: Genealogical Charts
    (pp. 157-162)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 163-166)
  10. References
    (pp. 167-178)
  11. Index
    (pp. 179-184)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-186)