Radical Feminists & People Of Color
By Carol Downer
Originally Published in Women's Health Movement Paper, July 1980
The U.S.'s clear (though unofficial) population policy until a mere ten years ago has always been extremely pronatalist (pro-birth), at least as far as the white population goes. Pushing women to have large families goes back to England and Europe and the struggle of the newly formed nations over territory and colonial possessions. Napoleon introduced many policies which rewarded men for its immediate acceptance and use by European men and women, the national leaders pressured the Catholic church for its support. In 1869, Pope Pius IX decreed that all abortion, from the moment of conception on, was murder. Queen Elizabeth passed the first law against abortion. The peasants in England were being forced off their lands into cities to live in abject poverty. Their culture, was lost. The European population swelled to the point where people literally sold themselves into slavery to get to America, the land of opportunity. While Indians were being massacred to wipe them off the face of the earth, white settlers were forced into childbearing to the point that it was common for white men to outlive two or three wives. The doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" demanded that whites settle and occupy the continent from coast to coast.
Then after World War I, a movement to reduce the population grew which adopted the theories of Malthus, an Englishman who, in the early 1900's had predicted that without the "natural" means of birth control (wars, floods, and pestilence) the poor of the earth were going to multiply much faster than the resources of the earth could support. This birth control movement was supported financially by American ruling class families, such as the Rockefellers, the Mellons, Fords and executives such as Cass Canfield, head of Harper and Row Publishers.
After World War II, the birth control movement took its cause to the public in huge ad campaigns, couching its concerns as fear of a population explosion and world hunger. In fact, the birth controllers were extremely afraid of a rebellion of the Third World, whose resources they were plundering. And, as the political awareness of the people of color living in the inner city increased, they were also afraid of a revolution.
Planned Parenthood, started in the 1950's, sponsored early experimentation into the Pill in Puerto Rico. They found out that the Pill would prevent pregnancy. Because of their studies on animals, they also knew that it caused many other undesirable effects, such as shrivelling up the ovaries causing sterility and early menopause, and cancer. They went ahead anyway. Today, millions of women around the world are subjects of the largest uncontrolled medical experiment in history. Planned Parenthood physicians also developed other procedures, drugs and devices, equally dangerous and totally physician-controlled. To mention just a couple, the IUD, Depo Provera, and mini-laparotomy for surgical sterilization of the woman.
The population controllers ultimate weapon against the fertility of the poor and Third World people is surgical sterilization. It is here that we can see most clearly their racist, imperialist motives. In the last 20 years, a third of Puerto Rican women have been sterilized, while during the same period, middle class white women were being denied sterilization in this country. In one example among many, one white woman, a wife of a psychiatrist, stood on the hospital window ledge after delivering her fourth child and threatened to jump unless they allowed her to be sterilized.
Antinatalism (attitudes and policies against birth) had spread so much in the U.S. that by the end of the '60's abortion laws were liberalized in California, New York, Washington and Hawaii. The abortion reform movement was not and still is not guided by feminist leadership. National abortion organizations meet in New York City at the Population Council in a large conference room under the watchful eyes of John D. Rockefeller, III, whose portrait hangs on the wall. Rockefeller, until his death, was the Pope of the antinatalist movement. He provided much of the funds in its early years. After 1950, the U.S. Government provided more and more of the financial backing, especially in the Third World. The Agency for International Development has a population department, which aggressively pushes birth control as part of any foreign-aid package to "underdeveloped" countries. For example, Depo Provera, the Dalkon Shield and self-abortion kits are outlawed in the U.S., but distributed abroad by A.I.D. Ray Ravenholt, Director of the Population Department, publically admitted that A.I.D. was trying to stave off world revolution by mass sterilization of women in poorer countries. Ha has been subsequently removed from that position.
The Feminist Women's Health Centers have led the fight against the population controllers since their early beginning in 1971. They exposed Harvey Karman, and infamous abortionist who has performed experimental and very harmful abortions on women of Bangladesh, poor black women in Philadelphia and poor Latin women in Los Angeles. They also have raised the consciousness of the women's health movement and many liberal people who had not recognized the imperialistic motives that underlay the popular appeal to concern about over-population and world hunger. They attended the Menstrual Regulation Conference in Hawaii in 1973, where Ravenholt, A.I.D., Batelle Corporation and the Pathfinder Fund, were trying to sell Third World physicians on early abortion. Ravenholt proposed to drop self-abortion kits on the rice paddies. The FWHC opposed this plan; subsequently it was squelched by Kennedy's Subcommittee on Human Experimentation.
Feminist and people of color formed an alliance in New York City to get regulations adopted to combat sterilization abuse. In 1977, they were victorious, as the guidelines were approved to be used in New York City Hospital. The group, called The Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, has formed chapters throughout the U.S. and has succeeded in getting similar guidelines adopted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This victory is a stunning blow to the population controllers, who are looking to sterilization as a preferable alternative for poor women. The upholding of the Hyde Amendment in July of 1980 will deprive poor women the financial help they need to have access to abortion. The inevitable consequence is that many will choose to be sterilized rather than risk getting pregnant. This is an excellent example of how population controllers use a variety of social control tools to shape the population growth. Today, it is fairly easy for middle-income women to get abortions. Teenage women of all ethnic groups have been targeted and many are coerced into abortions. Low-income women, which is often synonomous with women of color, will be coerced into sterilization.
Radical feminists are natural allies of those oppressed groups that are the target of population controllers. The Women's Health Movement recognizes the connections between imperialism and its logical expressions, racism and sexism. Unfortunately, many women of this generation have bought the anti-natalist propaganda that their decision to not have children is a sign of their liberation, rather than recognizing that it is necessary for them to maintain a decent standard of living, and that they are subject to many societal pressures to limit their fertility, even if they have to use dangerous methods to do so. It is a job for radical feminists to help women to understand how they are being manipulated.
A common perception is that feminists are anti-male and anti-family. Unfortunately, there are many right-wing feminists who do hold such limited views. However, radical feminists support the true from of the family and do not direct their energies against the individual man, but rather at the multi-national corporation which are indeed run by patriarchal ruling class families. These ruling class families have attempted to destroy everyone else's families, going so far as to redefine the family as the nuclear family. Feminists oppose the nuclear family, which locks people into rigid roles in an oppressive unite, and want to establish a society where all individuals can live in a mutually supportive, loving environment where they are cared about and nurtured.