‘The Silence is roaring’: sterilization, reproductive rights and women with intellectual disabilities

Tilley, Elizabeth; Earle, Sarah; Walmsley, Jan and Atkinson, Dorothy (2012). ‘The Silence is roaring’: sterilization, reproductive rights and women with intellectual disabilities. Disability and Society, 27(3) pp. 413–426.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2012.654991

Abstract

This paper reviews the history of sterilization of women with intellectual disabilities, and considers its relevance to current practice regarding reproductive choice and futures. The paper provides an overview of published research on historical practices, focusing on the UK, the US, Canada and the Nordic countries. Most of this research draws upon written records, centering on eugenics debates. However, emerging oral history testimonies gathered by the authors suggest that sterilization procedures were also conducted in the community, the result of private negotiations between parents and medical practitioners. The article presents these accounts and calls for an end to a ‘roaring silence’ on this issue. More empirical studies are needed to recover the experiences of women who have been sterilized and to explore how decisions about reproductive choice and capacity were made in the past and continue to be made today.
Key words: Sterilization; intellectual disability; contraception; history.

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