The Demand for Population Control Reform in Relation to Reproductive Rights

In lieu of the world’s rising population, birth control should not only be readily available, but in many cases it should be required. Many countries  such as the United States have put a lot of money into controlling the world’s population. Some countries, most notably China, have taken it upon themselves to control their population through laws or certain restrictions. Population control, though it isn’t a new concept, should not be taken lightly. In the past the United States has used population control to oppress people from other countries. Many attempts at population control which are used today by people of the same country or organizations from other countries are emotionally and physically harmful to women. There needs to be more money for more widespread birth control and equal care for everyone who needs to access birth control.

Female sterilization is the most widespread form of contraception, used by one-third of the world’s women. One of the problems with sterilization of any kind is that it is limited in it’s prevention of pregnancy because usually people who choose sterilization to prevent pregnancy have had all the children that they want. On the other hand forced sterilization or sterilizing women without their knowledge is much more effective. This could be very sever, like demanding women to get sterilized or sterilizing them, without their knowledge, when they are having another operation, most commonly a cesarean section. It could also be done by telling women they must use birth control and giving them no other form of birth control except sterilization. It is an effective way to cut cost but at the expense of women’s safety and peace of mind.

In developing countries half of the women prevent pregnancies through female sterilization. Vasectomies, on the other hand, are only common in Great Britain, the United States, India and China. Female sterilization continues to be the world’s primary form of birth control, yet vasectomies are much less invasive and virtually risk free. Multiple village level reporters throughout India have reported that it was very common to find women who had undergone female sterilization, and subsequently felt persistent pain in the pelvic and lower back area. One woman said, “After this operation we suffer very much, and then when we can not work husbands say, ‘go and die.’” It is not right for women to have to suffer so much and for men not change their behavior as well.

Family Health International, an organization based in North Carolina, funded tests of Quinacrine, a drug used to treat malaria, for female sterilization in Chile. Quinacrine is a pellet inserted into the uterus which creates scarring  in the fallopian tubes, sealing them. The company which produces Quinacrine promoted it for use for female sterilization as legal use of an approved drug for an unapproved use. It would save money because it was being used to treat Malaria, so medical clinics would already have it available. Unfortunately, on top of being experimental, Quinacrine can easily be used for female sterilization without the woman’s knowledge. Over 100,000 women in nineteen countries have had Quinacrine sterilization, and many of them had not consented or were not even aware. In the Hoa Binh rubber plantation in Vietnam, 100 women were sterilized with Quinacrine under the pretense of a routine gynecological check up.

From the beginning the Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception did not approve Quinacrine as a form of birth control. They did not like that it was being tested on women but stated, “The potential for coercion and abuse in the context of demographic goals may be of greater concern than the medical risk from side effects and long-term health effects of quinacrine itself.” AVSC, now EngenderHealth has improved the techniques used to sterilize both women and men. They invented the no surgery technique for vasectomies and help promote vasectomies as an alternative to female sterilization around the world. Now that EngenderHealth is not specifically tied to surgical contraception, they provide a variety of options for contraception. They help women make more informed decisions about what sort of birth control would be right for them.

The United States has been using female sterilization as a contraceptive and is majorly responsible for bringing it to many developing countries. In the mid-20th Century the United States began a program to combat Puerto Rico’s rising population because “Latin America threaten[ed] to overwhelm the world with it’s population explosion” as the North American Congress on Latin America put it. Unfortunately many doctors believed and continue to believe that less invasive contraception methods would be to difficult for Puerto Ricans, especially lower class Puerto Ricans, to handle. They saw postpartum female sterilization as the most effective way to control the population. Not coincidentally, doctors get more money for performing female sterilizations than other forms of birth control. What resulted was one of the highest percentages of sterilized women of any country. In 1968 more than 35% of women of reproductive age had undergone female sterilization. This sort of treatment did not stop in the 70’s, Puerto Rican women who immigrated to New York were interviewed recently and many felt that they were given no other options for contraception but to be sterilized.

Recently Uzbekistan allegedly implemented a new policy to control their population. The Ministry of Health confidentially ordered women to be sterilized and their reproductive organs removed after their first or second pregnancy. Women, when they go into labor, are told that they need a cesarean section and while they are having a baby their fallopian tubes are tied, often without their knowledge. Clinics have a quota for how many female sterilizations that they must perform on women. In more urban places it is four per week but in rural places the quota is eight or more. One woman had her tubes tied without her knowledge and only found out about it latter in an ultrasound. Her husband was furious and blamed her for having her tubes tied because he thought that she must have asked for the procedure. Many women emigrate to Kazakstan so that they can have children and not have to worry. The Uzbek government has reason to force sterilization onto women. They are obsessed with statistics, and sterilization both lowers the birthrate and the infant mortality rate, making Uzbekistan look better when ranked internationally. That little bit of incentive is enough to justify making their country a living hell for women.

The people speaking out about this phenomenon are mostly reporters. The situation is hard to understand completely because Uzbekistan is very isolated about what information they put out and restrictive about who they let enter their country. The Uzbek government denies making female sterilization a policy, saying that sterilization is on a voluntary basis and to say otherwise is political slander. In 2012 there was a BBC story by Natalia Antelava covering the forced sterilizations in Uzbekistan which is the most upfront report of the problem. She talked about one woman, Gulbakhor Turaeva, who started receiving uteruses of women in the mortuary which she worked at that had been removed for no reason. She spoke out about what she had found which alerted other countries about the population control practices which were the norm in Uzbekistan. By the time Antelava made was reporting about the forced sterilizations, Turaeva would not speak to her out of fear of what the government might do to her.

Unlike the Uzbek policy the Chinese one-child policy is very well-known. It raises a lot of controversy because it is very effective and the birth rate in China is very low but the tactics that the Chinese government uses to enforce the one-child policy are horribly inhumane. The one-child policy is known for inciting female infanticide when a couple wants to raise a boy so that he will take care of them when they grow old. Due to this there are 120 boys for every 100 girls born in China . On top of that there are huge fines for having more children than is legal. A family can be fined half of what they make in a year or up to ten times that. It is much worse for a woman who does not have the means to pay the fine. One woman was eight months pregnant and could not pay the fine for having another child, so they took her to the abortion clinic, strapped her to the table and injected a poison into her stomach. The birth rate in China is much lower than it needs to be, some say at 1.2 children per woman, yet the government still enforces the policy very strictly because they make money off of the fines that they collect from those who have more than one child.

There has been a lot of opposition towards China’s one-child policy from within China and other countries because of the late-term forced abortions and other oppression of women which it causes. Demographer Zheng Zhenzhen stated “In the field of population control, everyone thinks the policy should be modified.”

Many people believe that the situation in China, Uzbekistan and the United States are proof that population control policies all over the world need to be regulated. Organizations like EngenderHealth and people like the reporter Natalia Antelava are making sure that women everywhere are in control of their bodies, and in charge of what contraceptives they use. They believe that all women (and men) should be given equal access to birth control no matter which country they live in or how rich they are.


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