Why Was Tessa Savicki Forcibly Sterilized When She Asked For Birth Control?

Illustration for article titled Why Was Tessa Savicki Forcibly Sterilized When She Asked For Birth Control?

Tessa Savicki wanted to take control of her reproductive life. On December 19th, 2006, Savicki instructed doctors to insert an IUD after she delivered her ninth child. Instead, the doctors elected to forcibly sterilize her on the operating table.


Savicki is now suing the hospital for the actions of the physicians, who apparently ignored the IUD she brought with her to the surgery and opted to exercise their own judgment. The hospital cannot provide the consent form for the tubal ligation surgery that was ultimately performed - while the Herald notes that it is state law for the consent form to be filed 30 days in advance of the procedure, a search of the medical records of the hospital could not locate a form bearing Savicki's signature.

What would motivate doctors to do this? The article explains her circumstances:

Savicki has nine children from several men, is unemployed and relies on public assistance for two of the four children who live with her. She receives supplemental security income, or SSI, for a disability, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, she said. Her mother has custody of three of her children. Two of her children are no longer minors.


There are currently over 950 comments on the article, and the first few pages are generally uniform condemnations of "welfare queens" and praise for the doctors' actions. This should not be surprising - America has a long history of embracing the concept of eugenics, the core idea of which was that those who were deemed "unfit" should not be able to have children. The idea of "unfit" was wide-ranging, and included those who were nonwhite (particularly black and indigenous women), those considered morally deficient (prostitutes, alcoholics, and criminals), and those considered physically deficient (people with varying disabilities, including manic-depressives and epileptics) as well as those in poverty (especially the homeless.)

The issues in Savicki's case serve to highlight how prevalent these attitudes are in our society, and how limited our conversations surrounding reproductive choice have been. Much of the reaction to Savicki is informed by prejudice, as was much of the reaction to Nadya Suleman. The difference between the parents we laud for having multiple children and those we condemn is an interesting exploration of our current national politics.

In Savicki's case, she is well aware of the dynamics at play:

Savicki acknowledged that some may feel little sympathy for her situation, but cautioned against public judgment because she is a poor, unmarried mother of 9.

"I would never have the right to tell anyone else ‘because you have this many kids that's enough,' " she said. "That's no one's right to say that. It's my choice. No one has the right to say you've had enough.

"I take care of my kids. I love my kids. I was not ready to make that kind of decision," she said of the permanent sterilization.


Image by Christopher Evans for The Boston Herald.

Mom of 9 cries foul [Boston Herald]
Dark Chapter of American History: U.S. Court Battle Over Forced Sterilization [Common Dreams]

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First and foremost, no one should be forcibly sterilized. Whatever I say in this comment does not, ever, advocate for forced sterilization.

However, this woman does NOT take care of her children, so she should stop saying she does. When your mother has custody of 3 of them, you lose your chance to say you "take care of them." I imagine the doctors felt that this woman was incapable of utilizing good judgment (and I agree, having baby after baby that you can't take care, with cancer? I mean how is she taking care of herself? not to mention her children?), but it's not their decision to do this to her. That being said, what do we do in this situation? Let someone who clearly is misguided continue to birth children without any concern for their welfare? Continue to support her and her children while she continues to carry on? It's a hard situation, but forced sterilization is just absolutely not the answer.