Surgical Sterilization

Author: A.L.L.


American Life League

Sterilization is still the number-one method of birth control for women over twenty-five in this country. Its racist nature has long been exposed; women on Medicaid are encouraged to get free sterilization procedures. In sharp contrast to dwindling abortion rights, 90 percent of all sterilizations in the U.S. are federally funded.

                                                               Proletarian Revolution, Fall 1989, page 27.

Anti-Life Philosophy.

Sterilization is the most efficient manner of birth control available. It should be made available to everyone, especially poor women.

The haunting visages of eugenic and racist abuses constantly shoved in our faces by anti-choice people who want to deny women control over their own fertility are either nonexistent, or based on events that happened a century ago in other countries.


In less than twenty years, sterility has become more acceptable than fertility, a vacant womb more valued than a pregnant one.

                                                                                                        Debra Evans.[1]

Suppression of Natural Functions. 

Through all of recorded history, the paramount goal of the medical profession has been to repair the body and restore it to its normal level of healthy function with a single exception.

The only medical procedures that are performed to destroy or inhibit healthy organs are done to the male and female reproductive system.

The example that springs most quickly to mind is abortion, the most common medical procedure performed in the United States today.

The second most common medical procedure is sterilization.

This is the strange state of reproductive medicine in the West today. We never hear of the natural function of any other organ or system being deliberately sabotaged. There is probably no medical procedure available for destroying someone's sight, hearing, or ability to walk, yet many people do not give any thought to the fact that more than a million men and women willingly eagerly allow themselves be neutered in this country every year.[2]

Figure 102-1 shows the number of women who are sterile due to different factors by age, race, and marital status.

FIGURE 102-1

[A medium text size on your computer's 'view' setting is recommended, otherwise, the tables may be discombobulated.]

                                                     Total         Surgically   Surgically      Total
Description of Subgroup         Population       Sterile         Sterile *     Sterile

Classification By Age
   All women aged 15 to 24       20,150,000          2.6%           0.6%           3.2%
   All women aged 25 to 34       19,644,000        26.4%           1.5%         27.9%
   All women aged 35 to 44       14,305,000        57.3%           2.8%         60.1%

Classification By Race
   All White women 15-44         45,367,000        26.1%           1.6%         27.7%
   All Black women 15-44           6,985,000        22.2%           1.5%         23.7%
   Other minority women 15-44   1,747,000        29.3%           1.4%         30.7%

Classification By Marital Status
   Never-married women 15-44 19,164,000         2.6%           0.7%            3.3%
   Married women aged 15-44   28,231,000       38.9%           2.0%          40.9%
   Widowed/divorced women
   15 to 44                                  6,704,000        36.1%           1.9%          38.0%

                                                54,099,000        25.7%           1.5%          27.2%

Note. (*) "Nonsurgically sterile" refers to those women who have been rendered sterile by accidents, illnesses, or congenital conditions (i.e., due to environmental influences over which the women have little or no control).

Reference. United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Reference Data Book and Guide to Sources, Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. 1990 (110th Edition). Table 99, "Contraceptive Use By Women, 15-44 Years Old, By Age, Race, Marital Status, and Method of Contraception: 1982."

The average person could easily recognize the illogic and even the sin in a person having his legs severed so that he would never be able to walk or move again without assistance. But most people see another kind of amputation the intentional destruction of their own fertility as a positive good.

The Hysterectomy. 

Hysterectomies, the removal of one or more of the female reproductive organs, all render women sterile. Sometimes, they must be performed in order to excise various diseases, including cancer. However, according to pro-abortion Vicky Hufnagel, M.D., medical director of the Institute for Reproductive Health, about 65 percent of the 670,000 hysterectomies performed every year in this country are done for birth control reasons.

Hysterectomies are often portrayed as completely routine and without consequences, especially by population control pushers. However, Hufnagel says that the female reproductive organs are not just for reproduction; they are an essential part of any woman's body and interact with brain chemistry and other hormones.

It is now unacceptable to refer to the sterilization of poor black women as "Mississippi appendectomies." However, hysterectomies are now referred to as "Catholic birth control" by bigots, and are frequently offered to women with several children as they lie on the delivery table, showing a total lack of regard for the mother's feelings.

According to one-track population control fanatics, these procedures cost about $4,500 in 1989 prices, and are a bargain because they are cheaper than raising kids.

The Types and Dangers of Sterilization.

The Various Procedures. 

The most common type of female sterilization procedure is referred to as a laparoscopy. In this operation, the woman's Fallopian tubes are sealed with electrocoagulation, in which an electric current burns the tubes and causes them to clot to prevent bleeding. In alternative procedures involving nonelectric techniques, a clip or band compresses and divides the tubes. These operations are illuminated with a laparoscope, hence the name of the procedure.[3]

In a minilaparotomy (or "minilap"), the Fallopian tubes are pulled through a smaller incision of one to two inches length and are sealed. Complications are slightly less than for laparoscopy, but the associated hospital stay may be longer.[3]

Half of all women who are sterilized have the operation postpartum that is, immediately after having their last baby. After a Cesarian birth, the sterilization can be carried out by using the same incision that the baby was delivered through.

Less than 50% of female sterilizations can be reversed, and, if the reversal is successful, the risks of subsequent complications such as tubal pregnancies are greatly increased because the reconnection of the tubes is a delicate and often imperfect operation.

The Side Effects. 

Dr. Gregory L. Smith of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has shown that the female sterilization mortality rate is 2.29 per 100,000 for tubal ligation laparotomies and 4.72 per 100,000 for other types of sterilization.[4]

Approximately 1.5 million female sterilizations take place in the United States annually. If an average rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 operations is assumed, this means that about 50 to 55 women die each year from surgical sterilization about three times the number that die from legal abortion.

Other major complications due to female sterilization are quite common. In two studies involving a total of 541 sterilized women, researchers found that 94 (17%) required complete hysterectomies and 101 (19%) required dilation and curettage procedures for excessive bleeding as a direct result of the sterilizations.[5]

Women are not the only people who suffer adverse side effects to sterilization procedures. A comprehensive study of 11,205 neutered men in 156 medical centers in the United States found a significant relationship between vasectomy and the development of urolithiasis (urinary tract stones), immunological changes such as the production of anti-sperm antibodies, and tumors of the testes.[6]

The Ideal Eugenics Tool. 

Because its effects are permanent, because it cannot be tampered with, and because its effectiveness rate is so high, surgical sterilization is the ideal weapon for eugenicists, racists, and population controllers.

In the mid-1920s, American eugenicists found the simplest and most effective way of preventing the "less desirable classes" from reproducing widespread involuntary surgical sterilization.

Famous New York urologist William Robinson was certainly not unique in his view that "It is the acme of stupidity to talk in such cases of individual liberty, of the rights of the individual. Such [unfit] individuals have no rights. They have no right in the first instance to be born, but, having been born, they have no right to propagate their kind."[7]

The first American law mandating the sterilization of 'undesirables' was passed immediately after World War I. The operations were performed in "mental health facilities" on "unwed mothers, prostitutes, petty criminals and children with disciplinary problems."[8]

Indiana was the first State to pass a compulsory sterilization law. It did so in 1907, and was followed quickly by Connecticut and California in 1909; Iowa in 1911; North Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 1913; Nebraska in 1915; New Hampshire, Oregon, and South Dakota in 1917; North and South Carolina and Alabama in 1919; Delaware and Montana in 1923; and another 11 states by 1956, for a total of 28.[9]

These laws were modeled on the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law, promulgated by Harry H. Laughlin, director of the Eugenics Record Office. This legislation called for the sterilization of criminals, mental patients, the retarded, the blind, deaf, diseased, and alcoholics, and for dependents upon society the homeless, orphans, and tramps.[10]

Before Nazi Germany's Sterilization Act was passed, California was the world's primary eugenics experimentation laboratory, with more than 15,000 involuntary sterilizations performed on psychiatric inmates.[11]

In the United States, from 1907 to 1941, more than 36,000 persons in all were forcibly sterilized, mostly in California, Virginia, and Indiana, primarily for "feeblemindedness" or for having been born into large welfare families.[7]

In 1927, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the Court's Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld the widespread enforced eugenic sterilization of poor Black women in several states. In his opinion, Holmes wrote that "We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices ... Three generations of imbeciles are enough."[12]

Justice Holmes had once remarked that "I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand."[13]

In 1975, a United States Federal court found that, under these laws, 100,000 to 150,000 women were sterilized annually without their knowledge or consent under these federal programs. From 1924 right up until the early 1970s, more than 7,500 poor men and women were forcibly sterilized in the State of Virginia alone every year.[8]

Vestiges of this racist American eugenics program still linger to this day. The Federal government continues to fund 90 percent of the cost of sterilization of poor women under Medicaid and other family planning programs, but will not pay for infertility treatments.[13]

The Catholic Church Position on Sterilization.

Barnyard Birth Control. 

Sexual sterilization is sometimes sneeringly referred to as "Catholic birth control." This term, and the misguided assertions of a number well-known dissident Catholic priests, has led to confusion about what the Catholic Church teaches about sterilization.

Quotes on Sterilization. In his address to the Congress of Urology on October 8, 1953, Pope Pius XII outlined the specific conditions under which sterilization (or any amputation, for that matter) may be performed;

Three things condition the moral permission of a surgical operation requiring an anatomical or functional mutilation;

(1) that the preservation or functioning of a particular organ provokes a serious damage or constitutes a threat to the complete organism [this is the 'principle of totality'];

(2) that this damage cannot be avoided, or at least notably diminished, except by the amputation in question and that its efficacy is well assured; and

(3) that it can be reasonably foreseen that the negative effect, namely, the mutilation and its consequences, will be compensated by the positive effect: exclusion of a damage to the whole organism, mitigation of the pain, etc.

[As far as sterilization is concerned], the conditions which would justify disposing of a part in favor of the whole in virtue of the principle of totality are lacking. It is not therefore morally permissible to operate on healthy oviducts if the life or (physical) health of the mother is not threatened by their continued existence.

In response to its query on sterilization, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's statement of March 13, 1975 replied to the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops as follows; 

Any sterilization which of itself, that is, of its own nature and condition, has the sole immediate effect of rendering the generative faculty incapable of procreation, is to be considered direct sterilization, as the term is understood in the declarations of the pontifical magisterium, especially of Pius XII. Therefore, notwithstanding any subjectively right intention of those whose actions are prompted by the care of prevention of physical or mental illness which is foreseen or feared as a result of pregnancy, such sterilization remains absolutely forbidden to the doctrine of the church. And indeed the sterilization of the faculty itself is forbidden for an even graver reason than the sterilization of individual acts, since it induces a state of sterility in the person which is almost always irreversible.

Pope Paul VI's July 25, 1968 Encyclical on the Propagation of Human Life (Humanae Vitae) equated sterilization with abortion; 

Above all, direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, is to be absolutely excluded as lawful mans of controlling the birth of children. Equally to be condemned as the Magisterium of the Church has affirmed on various occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

The Catholic Church has consistently, and at regular intervals, condemned sterilization for any reason whatever except to save the life of the man or woman. In addition to the documents stated above, some of the Church's other pronouncements against sexual sterilization are listed below.

• "Encyclical on Christian Marriage" (Casti Conubii), Pope Pius XI, December 31, 1930, paragraphs 68 to 71.

Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (Topic: Sterilization for eugenics), March 18, 1931.

• Pronouncement to the Cardinals in Response to Recent Nazi Legislation in Germany, Pope Pius XI, December 23, 1933.

Decree of the Congregation for the Holy Office, February 24, 1940.

Address to the Congress of the Italian Association of Midwives, paragraphs 24 to 26, October 29, 1951.

Address to the Symposium on Medical Genetics, Pope Pius XII, September 7, 1953

Address to the Seventh Congress on Hematology, Pope Pius XII, September 12, 1958.

Pastoral Letter of the Indian Bishops, January 15, 1977.

Among documents of the Bishops of the United States that have condemned all sterilization procedures for both men and women are;

• United States Catholic Conference Administrative Board, Statement on Sterilization Procedures in Catholic Hospitals, November 22, 1977.

• United States Catholic Conference of Bishops: Statement on Tubal Ligation, July 9, 1980.

The "Double Effect" and Sterilization. 

As described in Chapter 43 of Volume II, the Catholic Church allows abortion for no reason whatever, even to save the life of the mother. However, a fine distinction must be made in this case: If an operation other than abortion is performed to save the life of a woman (say the surgical excision of an advanced cancer of the uterus), and the preborn baby dies as a result of this operation, then the procedure is licit. This is because the intent of the operation was to save the mother's life, not to kill the preborn child.

This principle of the "double effect" also applies to sexual sterilization. If a woman must have a hysterectomy to remove a dangerously cancerous uterus, this will result in her sterilization, but is not a sinful act. However, if the purpose of the operation is not to heal or safeguard health, but to sterilize, then that act is intrinsically evil and is always a mortal sin.[14]

References: Surgical Sterilization.

[1] Debra Evans. Without Moral Limits: Women, Reproduction, and the New Medical Technology. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1989. Page xviii.

[2] Contraceptive Technology Update, April 1988, page 39.

[3] American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Committee on Patient Education. "Patient Education Pamphlets." P-011, "Voluntary Sterilization for Men and Women" (June 1983), P-035, "Sterilization by Laparoscopy (June 1983), and P-052, "Postpartum Sterilization" (June 1984).

[4] As described in "From the Mail." The Wanderer, December 22, 1988, page 11.

[5] E.M. Boyd. "Post Tubal Syndrome." Royal College of General Practitioners, June 1987. M.I. Muldoon. "Gynaecological Illnesses After Sterilization." British Medical Journal, January 1970, pages 84 to 95. F. DeStefana et al, "Long Term Risk of Menstrual Disturbance After Tubal Sterilization." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 152(1985)835-841. M. Vessey et al, "Tubal Sterilization: Findings of a Large Prospective Study." British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 90(1983)203-209.

[6] N.R. Rose and P.L. Lucas. "Immunological Consequences of Vasectomy II: Two-Year Summary in a Prospective Study." In I.H. Lepow and R. Crozier (editors), Vasectomy: Immunological and Pathophysiologic Effects in Animals and Man. New York: Academic Press, 1979. Pages 533 to 539.

[7] Gregory E. Pence, M.D. Classic Cases in Medical Ethics: Accounts of the Cases That Have Shaped Medical Ethics, with Philosophical, Legal, and Historical Backgrounds. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1990. Chapter 14, "Preventing Undesirable Teenage Pregnancies," pages 286 to 302.

[8] Stephen J. Gould. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981. Page 335. Also see the Washington Post of February 23, 1980, "Over 7,500 Sterilized in Virginia." The example shown is from Oregon statutes. The Oregonian, January 29, 1990, page A12. Also see Gerald N. Grob, Mental Illness and American Society, 1875-1940.

[9] Robert Lipton. The Nazi Doctors. New York: Basic Books, pages 23, 24, and 129. Also see Bernard Schreiber. The Man Behind Hitler. Pages 36 and 84. Described in Spannaus, op.cit.

[10] Allen Chase. The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pages 69, 103, 316, 349, and 635.

[11] Peter Roger Breggin, M.D. "The Psychiatric Holocaust." Penthouse Magazine, January 1979, page 11. Described in Spannaus, op.cit.

[12] United States Supreme Court decision Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200 (1927), at 207.

[13] Relf v. Weinberger, 372 F.Supp.1196(D.D.C1974), remanded for modification, sub nom Relf v. Matthews, 403 F.Supp.1235 (D.D.C.1975). Also see the "Women's Guide to Reproductive Rights." American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, 1981. Page 23.

[14] Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, #14, July 25, 1968, and Pope Pius XII, "Allocution to Midwives," #27, October 29, 1951.

Further Reading: Surgical Sterilization.

Nona Aguilar. No-Pill, No-Risk Birth Control
New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1980. 235 pages; paperback, hardback. Reviewed by Edward F. Keefe in the Spring 1980 issue of the International Review of Natural Family Planning, pages 81 to 84, and by Rose Fuller on pages 177 to 179 of the Summer 1986 issue of the same publication. This book extols the virtues of natural family planning while explaining the "shocks" to the system of sterilization and the various methods of artificial contraception. A good 'theory' book.

Benedict M. Ashley, O.P. Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian
The Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, 186 Forbes Road, Braintree, Massachusetts 02184. 1985, 727 pages. A very in-depth examination of the history and implications of the attitudes towards the human body by Christians and humanists.

Gary Atkinson, Ph.D., and Father Albert Moraczewski, Ph.D. A Moral Evaluation of Contraception and Sterilization: A Dialogical Study
St. Louis, Missouri: Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, 1979. 115 pages. Reviewed by Donald DeMarco, Ph.D. in the Summer 1980 issue of the International Review of Natural Family Planning, pages 166 and 167. This small volume presents the central arguments of the controversies over contraception and sterilization.

Eugene F. Diamond, M.D. This Curette for Hire
Published by the ACTA Foundation, 4848 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60640. 1977, 141 pages. Order from: Life Issues Bookshelf, Sun Life, Thaxton, Virginia 24174, telephone: (703) 586-4898. The author discusses the deterioration of medical ethics and the critical role of the doctor in all anti-life activities: Abortion, fetal experimentation, sterilization, euthanasia, infanticide, sex therapy, abortifacients, and more.

Father Ronald Lawler, Joseph Boyle, Jr., and William E. May. Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, and Defense
1985, 274 pages. Paperback. Order from: Life Issues Bookshelf, Sun Life, Thaxton, Virginia 24174, telephone: (703) 586-4898. Reviewed by Father Robert Barry, Ph.D. on pages 346 to 348 of the Winter 1985 issue of the International Review of Natural Family Planning. A very clearly written summary of Catholic Church teaching on sexual morality. Topics include the Bible and sex; formation of conscience; chastity, virginity, and Christian marriage; and Church teaching on sex.

Carol Levine (Editor). Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Bio-Ethical Issues
Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc., Guilford, Connecticut. 1984, 297 pages. Leading thinkers on both sides of bioethical issues express their opinions in scholarly essays on subjects including abortion, in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, involuntary sterilization of the retarded, informed consent, active euthanasia, withholding treatment from handicapped newborns, suicide, the insanity defense, animal experimentation, prisoners volunteering for research, justifiable deception in research, organ harvesting from the dead, and genetic engineering. A good primer on the bioethical issues.

Pope Paul VI. Humanae Vitae ("Human Life: On the Regulation of Birth"). 
Pope Paul's historic Encyclical Letter dated July 25, 1968. This letter may be obtained in booklet form from the United States Catholic Conference Publishing Service, 3211 Fourth Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017-1194, telephone: 1-800-541-3090, or from any Archdiocesan office. Also available from Life Issues Bookshelf, Sun Life, Thaxton, Virginia 24174, telephone: (703) 586-4898. This and other encyclicals that are landmarks in Catholic social teaching are available from the Daughters of St. Paul, 50 St. Paul Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02130, telephone: (617) 522-8911.

H.J. Roberts, M.D. Is Vasectomy Safe?  
West Palm Beach, Florida: Sunshine Academic Press. 1979. Reviewed by Charles Norris, M.D., in the Winter 1979 issue of the International Review of Natural Family Planning, pages 356 and 357. Even though mass vasectomy is a modern process, like abortion, it has hidden dangers.

Roman Catholic Church. "Sterilization: Recent Declarations of Popes and Bishops." 
19 pages, October 1983, 55 cents. Available from the Life Ethics Centre, St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2J5. Telephone: (403) 467-4489.

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This is a chapter of the Pro-Life Activist’s Encyclopedia published by American Life League.