More women are choosing permanent sterilization in light of the recent Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. OB-GYNs have said they are seeing an increase in women asking for sterilization in places like Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida.
“I got my fallopian tubes removed, because I know I don’t want children and I’m doing everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen, but in the case that it does I don’t have bodily autonomy,” a D.C. resident recently said about her decision to have the procedure.
Sterilization has become more popular among both men and women after the Dobbs decision – and even right before it was announced.
The chief healthcare officer of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Diana N. Contreras, said that Planned Parenthood saw a massive increase in people coming to its websites seeking information on how to get sterilized or get a vasectomy after the ruling was released. One doctor from San Antonio said she used to have a few patients come in for sterilization from time to time, but now she’s doing consultations for the procedure every single day.
According to the Los Angeles Times, if women were already planning not to have kids, they decided to get sterilized sooner, or they were thinking more intensely about sterilization after the Supreme Court decision.
A lot of women have said they’re doing this in order to keep some control over their bodies since they believe that legislators might try to limit other procedures surrounding reproduction or cut back on the ability to use contraceptives.
The most common procedure is called tubal ligation, which entails tying off or cutting the fallopian tubes. In some rare cases, it can be reversed with surgery, but even in the cases where the reversal succeeds, the woman is at risk for ectopic pregnancy. For that reason, it is considered an irreversible procedure. In rare cases, some women can still get pregnant after they have been sterilized, particularly if they are young, but it is generally considered to be almost 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.
The method is extremely common. According to the CDC, between 2015-2017, around 65% of women ages 15-49 in the U.S. were currently using contraception, and of those, the most common form used was sterilization. Around 18.6% of women in that age group had undergone the procedure. The second most common form of contraception was the pill at 12.6%. The procedure is most popular with women over the age of 40, with a plurality of women over 40 choosing sterilization as their primary mode of birth control.
Legally, any woman over the age of 18 can pursue sterilization, but in practical terms, it can be difficult to find a doctor who is willing to perform such a procedure on young women who have not yet had children. A lot of doctors are only comfortable performing it on women who have already had kids, or at least are over the age of 30. There is also a lot of sensitivity around race and class stereotypes that may cause doctors to be more or less willing to perform the procedure on certain women.
In the past, some women were forced to have sterilizations by the government against their will. In the 1930s, this practice was at its height as certain groups were thought to be unfit to procreate as part of the eugenics movement.
California had the largest eugenics practice, which sterilized over 20,000 people beginning in 1909. Its eugenics law was repealed in 1979, but the sterilizations in state prisons seem to have continued past that point. As recently as this past January, the state launched a reparations program for people who survived the government-run sterilization.