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The Global Biopolitics of the IUD

The Global Biopolitics of the IUD: How Science Constructs Contraceptive Users and Women's Bodies

Chikako Takeshita
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    The Global Biopolitics of the IUD
    Book Description:

    The intrauterine device (IUD) is used by 150 million women around the world. It is the second most prevalent method of female fertility control in the global South and the third most prevalent in the global North. Over its five decades of use, the IUD has been viewed both as a means for women's reproductive autonomy and as coercive tool of state-imposed population control, as a convenient form of birth control on a par with the pill and as a threat to women's health. In this book, Chikako Takeshita investigates the development, marketing, and use of the IUD since the 1960s. She offers a biography of a multifaceted technological object through a feminist science studies lens, tracing the transformations of the scientific discourse around it over time and across different geographies. Takeshita describes how developers of the IUD adapted to different social interests in their research and how changing assumptions about race, class, and female sexuality often guided scientific inquiries. The IUD, she argues, became a "politically versatile technology," adaptable to both feminist and nonfeminist reproductive politics because of researchers' attempts to maintain the device's suitability for women in both the developing and the developed world. Takeshita traces the evolution of scientists' concerns--from contraceptive efficacy and product safety to the politics of abortion--and describes the most recent, hormone-releasing, menstruation-suppressing iteration of the IUD. Examining fifty years of IUD development and use, Takeshita finds a microcosm of the global political economy of women's bodies, health, and sexuality in the history of this contraceptive device.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29845-2
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1 Turning the Gaze on Modern Contraceptive Research: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    It has been a half-century since the contraceptive pill and the modern intrauterine device (IUD) were introduced. These inventions were remarkable because birth control methods before the 1960s had a number of drawbacks. Surgical sterilization prevented pregnancy with high reliability, but was invasive and not reversible. Barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges had high failure rates and required action at the time of sexual intercourse. The new contraceptives, prescribed by doctors, were coitus independent, were reversible, and had low pregnancy rates. At a time when abortion was illegal in the United States, these medical methods were...

  6. 2 “Birth Control for a Nation”: The IUD as Technoscientific Biopower
    (pp. 33-72)

    At the first international conference on the intrauterine device sponsored by the Population Council in 1962 in New York City, conference chairman Alan Guttmacher articulated the need for a new kind of contraceptive for what he referred to as the “masses”: “The reason the restraint of population growth in these areas is moving so slowly is the fact that the methods we offer are Western methods, methods poorly suited to [non-Western] culture[s] and to the control of mass population growth. Our methods are largely birth control for the individual, not for a nation.”¹

    Guttmacher, who was the chief of obstetrics...

  7. 3 From the “Masses” to the “Moms”: Governing Contraceptive Risks
    (pp. 73-104)

    I was looking forward to getting an IUD when I phoned the doctor at a local Planned Parenthood office in April 2002. So I was momentarily taken aback by the way she responded to my request for an IUD insertion. She immediately asked me whether I was married, and when I said no, she followed up with more questions: “Are you and your partner faithful to each other?” “How long have you been with this man?” “Are you and your partner committed to a long-term relationship?” and on and on. Why was she asking me such personal questions? I did...

  8. 4 “IUDs Are Not Abortifacients”: The Biopolitics of Contraceptive Mechanisms
    (pp. 105-136)

    The characterization of the IUD as an abortifacient is a rhetorical move that has been advanced by antiabortion movement leaders and religiously inclined physicians. Discrediting contraceptive methods has been integral to the conservative political agenda in the United States, which gained a foothold with the New Right’s rise to power during the 1980s. In the opening quote to this chapter, John Willke, a significant figure in the antiabortion movement, denounces the IUD mechanism of action in his role as the in-house medical specialist on the Life Issues Institute Web site.¹ He depicts the IUD as an object that causes a...

  9. 5 “Keep Life Simple”: Body/Technology Relationships in Racialized Global Contexts
    (pp. 137-162)

    After the birth of my second child in 2005, I had my second IUD inserted. This time it was a Mirena, which releases a synthetic progestin, levonorgestrel, from an intrauterine capsule and prevents pregnancy for five years without replacement. The device is one of the most effective contraceptive methods, comparable to surgical sterilization. In clinical trials, the pregnancy rate was less than 1 percent, and fertility returned to normal levels after users discontinued the device. The ParaGard, the other IUD product available in the United States, is a copper-bearing IUD that lasts ten years. Although the two types of devices...

  10. 6 Diffracting the Technoscientific Body: A Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    Throughout this book, I have traced the making of a politically versatile technology—a device readily appropriated by diverse social agendas ranging from population control to the antiabortion movement. The optical metaphor of diffraction is the methodological tool I used to tease out the biopolitical scripts embodied by the IUD. Each chapter analyzed different diffraction patterns created by a particular interference I chose to make in the history of the device’s development. Chapter 2 detailed the Population Council’s quest to fashion a birth control plan for a nation. Diffracting the device in this instance illuminated the colonial legacy of the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-200)
  12. References
    (pp. 201-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-238)