'No Más Bebés' Exposes The Involuntary Sterilization Of Immigrant Women

It's about time people knew what really happened.

In 1975, a group of 10 Mexican women sued LA county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government, claiming medical staff coerced, forced and tricked them into getting tubal ligations immediately after giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Now, more than four decades later, their little-known story is being shared with the public in the documentary film “No Más Bebés.

Filmmakers Renee Tajima-Peña and Virginia Espino spent six years locating and speaking with six of the women involved in the case, giving them a platform from which to share their own stories, in their own words.

In the film, women recount harrowing tales of being asked to sign papers in the midst of labor, often under extreme duress. Some, who did not speak any English or whose partners were not present, were told the document they were being asked to sign would enable doctors to perform a life-saving procedure. And, still, others were physically forced to sign.

Some of the women interviewed said they had no idea they’d been sterilized. It wasn't until they were contacted by Antonia Hernández, a young Latina lawyer provided with records secretly gathered by a whistle-blowing doctor Bernard Rosenthal, that they realized they would not be able to have any more children.

In their landmark 1975 class-action lawsuit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, the plaintiffs argued that their right to bear a child, guaranteed by the rights affirmed with the Roe v. Wade decision two years earlier two years earlier, was violated when the they were forcibly sterilized. Dolores Madrigal was the lead plaintiff of the case and the head of Obstetrics and gynecology at the hospital at the time, Dr. E.J. Quilligan, was the original named defendant.

“Like most middle-class women, to me Roe v. Wade meant the right to abortion,” says producer/director Tajima-Peña in a statement. “I never considered I would ever be denied the choice to have a baby. Today there is a growing reproductive justice movement that argues for a woman’s control over the full range of her fertility — the right to terminate a pregnancy as well as the right to have a child and raise that child in dignity. Forty years ago, these women were talking about reproductive justice in a way that was ahead of their time. They understood that their race, poverty, and legal status affected whether or not they had any choice at all.”

"No Más Bebés" premieres Mon., Feb. 1 at 10:00p.m. EST on PBS. Watch the trailer for the film above.

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Photograph: Cinthya Felix and Tam Tran

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