WHJI and NOWHC respons to LaBruzzo

Date Published: 
September 27, 2008

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The Women’s Health & Justice Initiative1 and the New Orleans Women’s
Health Clinic2 condemn Representative John LaBruzzo’s recent legislative plans to pay
poor women to get sterilized and reward rich, educated people to have children.  The
sterilization policy currently being advocated by Representative LaBruzzo is a blatant
form of reproductive violence and population control policies of blame and
disenfranchisement, rooted in this country’s long and continual history of eugenics.  The
legislation and criminalization of black and poor women’s bodies, sexuality, fertility, and
motherhood are being used as regulatory tools for economic and ideological justification
for eugenics. If Mr. LaBruzzo is really concerned about ending poverty and reducing
social burdens on the state, he would not be advocating punitive social polices that
restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, but instead would be focusing his attention on
ending corporate welfare and holding the corporate giants of Wall Street accountable for
the disastrous state of the country’s economy.   Stigmatizing and blaming the bodies and
reproductive capabilities of black and poor women, and other marginalized
communities, as the cause of poverty, mask Representative LaBruzzo’s unwillingness to
fully examine the complex structural causes of poverty and inequality in our society.  
Reproductive violence and sterilization abuse at the hands of elected officials should be
challenged and condemned.  All women, regardless of their race, sexuality, ability,
household size, economic, housing, and citizenship status, have the right to live whole
healthy lives free of control, violence, regulation, and coercive social policies designed to
exploit their economic vulnerability for sterilization and contraception abuse.   
 
Social justice organizations, activists, organizers, and advocates are encouraged to use
the following as talking points challenging Representative John LaBruzzo’s eugenic
agenda.  
 
 
 
 
 The sterilization policy currently being advocated by Representative John
LaBruzzo is a blatant form of reproductive violence and population
control policies of blame and disenfranchisement, rooted in this
country’s long and continual history of eugenics.
 
 These reproductive modification tactics of Representative LaBruzzo
are reminiscent, if not the same, of eugenics policies of the early
twentieth century to forcibly sterilize thousands of people thought to be
                                                 
1
 The New Orleans Women’s Health & Justice Initiative is a multi-dimensional community-based organizing project
centered on (1) improving low income and uninsured women of color access to quality, affordable, and safe health care
services; and (2) organizing women for sexual health and reproductive justice through community-based strategies to
equip those most disenfranchised by the medical industry with the means to control and care for their own bodies,
sexuality, and reproduction. WHJI is a local affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence –  a national activist
organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our
communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing.
 
2
 The New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic (NOWHC) is a grassroots community-based non-profit women’s health clinic –
operated by a radical, women of color-led, feminist health collective.  The mission of the New Orleans Women’s Health
Clinic is to equip marginalized and underserved women with the means to control and care for their own bodies, sexuality,
reproduction, health through a holistic, community-centered well women approach to health care which integrates sexual
health and reproductive justice.  NOWHC  is a local affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.
Eugenics, Reproductive Violence, Population Control, &  
Sterilization Abuse
 
An Intersectional, Reproductive Justice Feminist Response to  
LaBruzzo’s Sterilization Plan . . .
 
socially undesirable to procreate, particularly immigrants, the poor, people of
color, people incarcerated, people with disabilities, and those with mental
illnesses.  
 
 Eugenicists, like LaBruzzo, opposed social programs designed to
improve the living conditions of the poor, arguing that adequate medical
care, better working conditions, and minimum wages all harmed society because
those measures enabled people with inferior heredity to live longer and produce
more children3.  These sentiments are directly related to LaBruzzo’s statements
that “mainstream strategies for attacking poverty, such as education reform
and family planning program have failed to solve the problem,” yet he wants to
create incentives for college-educated, higher income people to have more
children.
 
 The measures Representative LaBruzzo are currently proposing is an example of
controlled consent.  There’s nothing voluntary about using monetary
incentives to exploit women’s economic vulnerability.
 
 The reproductive autonomy of women of color and poor women
should not be compromised to support Representative LaBruzzo’s eugenic
policy to sterilize, blame, disenfranchise, and restrict the rights of women to
control and care for their bodies, reproduction, and sexuality.
 
 Mandating sterilization as a condition or punishment for receiving
public assistance and housing subsidies is racist, sexist, and
politically idiotic!
 
 It is disturbing that reproductive modification policies and practices that
disempower women because of their family size and economic status can
receive such widespread support.  It truly shows that eugenics lies at the heart of
LaBruzzo’s plans.
 
 This is a direct reflection of the reproductive violence and sterilization
abuse that women of color and poor women continue to face at the
hands of the state.  
 
 
 
 Policies that promote the control and criminalization of black
motherhood have no place in our society.
 
 As a result of punitive welfare reforms instituted during the Clinton
Administration in the mid 1990s, the attacks and criminalization of
women of color and poor women’s reproduction and sexuality has
continued unabated despite the fact that TANF/FITAP assistance has
been steadily decreasing over the past decade in Louisiana.   
 
 Mr. LaBruzzo is reinforcing racial and gender stereotypes by using the
bodies of poor black women and other vulnerable communities as a
                                                 
3
 Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body, (New York: Vintage Books, 1997).
Criminalization of Black Women’s Sexuality, Fertility,
& Motherhood
 
scapegoat to bolster his political career to win the hearts and minds of a
conservative base that continues to restrict women’s reproductive rights.  
 
 Mr. LaBruzzo and his conservative base advocate abstinence-only sex education
in schools that don’t work. Their refusal to support resources needed for
comprehensive preventative reproductive health services, including abortion and
safe birth control methods, makes it clear that they have no concern for poor
women’s economic health and well-being.  Rather, their interest is in the
control and criminalization of poor women’s reproduction and
motherhood.
 
 
 
 What he’s basically proposing is an economic stimulus plan attacking
poor black women.  So, if you’re a woman, poor, and  black, get in line-
you’re about to be sterilized!
 
 The aggressive promotion of sterilization as a condition and punishment
for receiving public assistance, and the use of coercive social policies that
threaten women’s health and well-being like those currently being advocated by
LaBruzzo have nothing to do with eradicating poverty in our society.
 
 According to LaBruzzo, the solution to ending poverty in our society is to control
and regulate the fertility and sexuality of black women – not the creation of
comprehensive programs to improve health care access, our education system,
housing affordability, and employment opportunities in the state.  His plan
pathologizes the reproductive capabilities of Black and poor women by proposing
legislation to exploit the economic vulnerability of those who are socially
stereotyped as burdens on the state.    
 
 Even if sterilization is voluntary, POVERTY IS NOT! Poverty, economic
insecurity, and lack of sustainable livelihood can cause a woman to consider this
aggressive sterilization incentive a viable option.   
 
 LaBruzzo talks about poverty as though it were an infectious disease—as
though poor people will eventually make everyone poor—rather than a
condition people are condemned to by Louisiana’s lack of investment in
education, employment, affordable housing, and quality health care programs,
services, and resources.
 
 LaBruzzo uses a myth of scarcity to argue that if economic resources are
shared with everyone, no one will have enough.  The reality is that if the lion’s
share of our economic resources stopped being used for unnecessary
military spending and corporate welfare, such as the Wall Street bailout,
then all our communities would have access to the resources and opportunities
they need to survive and thrive!
 
 Despite the reality of who’s on welfare and the total number of families
receiving FITAP benefits in Louisiana, welfare assistance is socially and
politically associated with Black mothers who are, unfortunately, already
negatively stereotyped in mainstream media as “lazy,” “irresponsible,” “overly
fertile,” and “welfare queens.”   Because of these stereotypes, LaBruzzo has been
Economic Myths - Falsehoods LaBruzzo’s idea is based on
 
able to gain support for his aggressive eugenic sterilization initiative using
monetary incentives.
 
 The exploitation and regulation of Black women’s bodies and our
reproductive capabilities to solve the social problems of poverty and the financial
instability of the county’s economy through legislation designed to sterilize poor
and working class women of color is a barbaric attempt on the part of
Representative John LaBruzzo to increase his popularly among conservatives,
and to create a distraction from the real problems associated with the country’s
current economic crisis.
 
 
 When we let the numbers of people who are on welfare speak for
themselves, it becomes clear that this is not about welfare at all – it’s about
politicians like LaBruzzo who are committed to controlling the reproduction of
communities of color and poor people by attacking the bodies and reproductive
decisions of Black and poor women.  
 
 We are basically witnessing a two front war against poor and working
class black communities right now. On one hand, we have the Bush
administration fighting to push an economic corporate welfare bailout plan to
save Wall Street, and on the other, we have an elected official blaming the bodies
and reproductive decisions of poor black women for the social conditions caused
by corporate greed.  
 
 Advocating for the sterilization of poor black women, and publicly
demonizing their motherhood under the cloak of reducing the number of people
on welfare, masks the complex causes of poverty and inequality that
permeate our society.  If Mr. LaBruzzo is really serious about addressing the
problems plaguing our communities right now, he would be focusing his
attention on creating legislation to end corporate greed, end the War in Iraq,
holding corporations accountable for the toxins that they continue to put into the
environment, funding our failing education system, providing people the health
care they need now, and supporting affordable housing initiatives in the city.
 
 The current punitive welfare policies Representative LaBruzzo is
considering will render women of color, poor women, and women
with disabilities vulnerable to sterilization and contraceptive abuse
because of racial and class assumptions that their fertility is out of control.    In
reality, the average number of children women on welfare have in the state of
Louisiana is two – but the image of the over-breeding “welfare queen” is fixed in
the minds of many Americans, including Representative LaBruzzo.
 
 Over the past decade, the number of women receiving welfare assistance
in the state of Louisiana has been decreasing.  In the past three years, we
have seen a 74.24 percent drop in women receiving welfare. According to the
Louisiana Department of Social Services, families receiving assistance through
the Louisiana Families Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP)
was down from 5764 recipients in July 2005 to 1485 as of July 2008.  
 
 This is a sexist, racist, and elitist attempt to distract the public from
those who are really creating social burdens on society – the corporate
Economic Realities – What really creates the conditions LaBruzzo  
is “concerned” about
 
welfare giants of Wall Street, the war in Iraq, the over production of unnecessary
commodities that negatively impact our environment, and the wasteful spending
of public resources on programs--such as abstinence only sex education in
schools-- that don’t work!
 
 The low-income women of color LaBruzzo feels so comfortable scapegoating
for Louisiana’s economic conditions are those who support Louisiana’s
economy by doing its low-wage work.   When LaBruzzo goes to his office,
these women clean it; when he goes to a restaurant, they wash the dishes; and
when he stays at a hotel, they turn down his sheets.  Rather than this mean-
spirited attack, he should call for an increase in the minimum wage that would
make it feasible for poor women to survive economically.
 
 
 
 Instead of mandating punitive measures to modify and pathologize poor women’s
reproductive decisions, we need legislation to increase women’s access to
high quality, non-coercive, voluntary rep