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Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfareby Johanna Schoen
Synopses & Reviews
"An insightful and engaging account of local, national, and international struggles over the control of women's fertility. . . . Should be read by students and researchers alike interested in the American South, medicine, state formation, and the intersections of gender, race, and class."
— NC Historical Review "The material on North Carolina [is] compelling and highly accessible."
— Journal of the History of Medicine "Skillfully demonstrates the global impact of these earlier twentieth century debates and imperial relationships. . . . Schoen skillfully positions her work within the wider study of women's reproduction history."
— Material Culture "[A] well-written book. . . . [that has] the sort of impact that many academics dream of initiating and rarely achieve."
— Journal of Interdisciplinary History "A bold and innovative move to set the terms on which we might be able to write global histories of reproduction."
— Journal of History of Medicine and Allied Sciences "Johanna Schoen's close and judicious analysis of North Carolina's birth control and, especially, sterilization policy will change the way historians frame these controversial issues. I would hope that it would also change the way policymakers think. Never sacrificing complexity, the book demonstrates the need to keep in mind both the repressive and the liberating potential of modern reproduction-control technology. A distinguished piece of scholarship. (Linda Gordon, New York University)" "Johanna Schoen's historical scholarship recovers the voices of poor women of color in the American South as active agents in determining their own sexuality and pregnancies. Schoen's story of poor women's negotiations with family planners, doctors, social workers and the state in mid-twentieth century North Carolina is riveting in itself. But the brilliance of this book is the deftness through which it links local particularities to a larger global context where birth control methods may be either liberating or controlling, depending on the dynamics of gender, race, class, and power. (Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, City University of New York )"
Based on unique access to more than 7,500 case histories and the papers of the North Carolina state eugenics board, Schoen looks at legislation, public health programs, and women's responses to sterilization, contraceptive use, and access to abortion from the 1920s to the 1970s.
In August 2003, North Carolina became the first U.S. state to offer restitution to victims of state-ordered sterilizations carried out by its eugenics program between 1929 and 1975. The decision was prompted by newspaper stories based on the research of Johanna Schoen, who was granted unique access to summaries of 7,500 case histories and the papers of the North Carolina Eugenics Board.
In this book, Schoen situates the state's reproductive politics in a national and global context. Widening her focus to include birth control, sterilization, and abortion policies across the nation, she demonstrates how each method for limiting unwanted pregnancies had the potential both to expand and to limit women's reproductive choices. Such programs overwhelmingly targeted poor and nonwhite populations, yet they also extended a measure of reproductive control to poor women that was previously out of reach.
On an international level, the United States has influenced reproductive health policies by, for example, tying foreign aid to the recipients' compliance with U.S. notions about family planning. The availability of U.S.-funded family planning aid has proved to be a double-edged sword, offering unprecedented opportunities to poor women while subjecting foreign patients to medical experimentation that would be considered unacceptable at home.
Drawing on the voices of health and science professionals, civic benefactors, and the women themselves, Schoen's study allows deeper understandings of the modern welfare state and the lives of American women.
About the Author
Johanna Schoen is assistant professor of history and women's studies at the University of Iowa.
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