Marie Sanchez & Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri

“I am known to be a fighter. I don’t know why, I don’t carry a knife or a gun, I carry a stethoscope….” — Dr. Pinkerton-Uri

Marie Sanchez & Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri

Together, in the 1970s, these women uncovered the extremely alarming practice by our government of forced sterilization in the Native American communities. 

A young Native American woman entered Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s office and asked for a “womb transplant,” misinformed about the sterilization procedure by her doctor. Two young women entered an Indian Health Service hospital (IHS, a U.S. federal agency) for appendectomies and received tubal ligations at the age of 15 and without their consent or knowledge, apparently a common occurrence during the 1960s and 70s. And if the Native American women who came into the IHS practices were even told about the tubal ligation, in some cases, they were misled into believing that the sterilization procedure was reversible. 

After some research, Dr. Pinkerton-Uri said the Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.”

Marie Sanchez, chief tribal judge on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, arrived in Geneva in 1977 with a clear message to deliver to the United Nations Convention on Indigenous Rights. American Indian women, she announced, were targets of the “modern form” of genocide—sterilization.

Over the six-year period that had followed the passage of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, physicians sterilized perhaps 25% of Native American women of childbearing age, and there is evidence suggesting that the numbers were actually even higher. The law subsidized sterilizations for patients who received their health care through the IHS and for Medicaid patients, and Black and Latina women were also targets of coercive sterilization in these years.

This punctuates the fact that a woman’s bodily autonomy, her own health choices, should never be decided by the government!

(On a personal note, at the time of this horrendous violation by our government, I was experiencing my very first menstruation having no idea how privileged I was. I actually cried upon reading this bit of history that I had never heard one whisper about and could not even imagine the level of betrayal these young women must have felt. I have two children who have absolutely been the loves of my life and this joy was stolen from these unsuspecting American women. I thought it imperative to bring this chapter to light. –Suzanne)

The short list:

  • Two women advocating for the reproductive rights of young Native American women.
  • Attended the Geneva Convention to expose the sterilization practice of the government’s Indian Health Services (IHS).
  • Spoke on behalf of the many who worked for the federal government but were not able to speak out publicly about this heinous practice.
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