News Analysis

The issue of the specific reproductive rights of Puerto Rican Americans is an extremely specific topic under the larger umbrella of women’s reproductive health, an area which currently receives a surprisingly low amount of press coverage in standard news media. Furthermore, due to the specificity of this issue, it is rare to find much media reporting on sterilization practices among Puerto Rican women in New York City. This news analysis will focus on coverage within health organizations and online blogs and explore the lack of coverage in other media spheres.

Lack of Specific News Coverage

Even after intense searches, we were unable to find any current mainstream media coverage of specific Puerto Rican sterilization issues. News that mentioned Puerto Rican-specific reproductive health issues took a historical approach to the situation and presented it as a resolved problem or as an example of past struggles in Puerto Rico during the country’s period of industrialization. For this reason, our news analysis focuses primarily on large and small advocacy organizations, supplemented by opinion pieces and social blogs. Even with a small breadth of information, this will help to highlight the primary focus of these sources, to gain a broad survey of the arguments presented within a more specific context, and to address the significance of a lack of mainstream media coverage. 

Coverage by Advocacy Organizations

In their coverage of birth control practices among Puerto Rican women in Brooklyn, larger women’s health organizations tended to describe how sterilization fit into a larger context of inequalities of reproductive rights. The statistics and information regarding the status and experiences of Puerto Rican-Americans or New Yorkers was not usually presented as its own issue, but rather as an example of how women, especially those who are part of minority groups, are repeatedly disadvantaged by socio-economic structures and policies. Two of these organizations, the Committee on Women, Environment, and Population and the Center for Reproductive Rights, focus almost exclusively on general coercive policies employed by those in positions of power to assert authority and limit access to reproductive freedom for those in minority groups. They use the Puerto Rican sterilization case study as an example. The National Latina Health Organization (NLHO) also fit Puerto Ricans into a larger discourse regarding limitations and lack of reproductive choices. The organization simultaneously calls for an increased activism and asserts that the issue has not gone away, although it has disappeared from the public eye in recent decades. This source was the only one that acknowledged the lack of continued media coverage surrounding Puerto Rican women and their continued relationship with sterilization as a form of birth control.

Two organizations employed a slightly more precise approach to the Puerto Rican women’s sterilization practices. Articles by the health resource organization Our Bodies, Ourselves focus on public laws and addendums regarding sterilization practices and regulations dealing with informed consent that are currently being enacted and enforced in New York City.  Similarly to the NLHO, Our Bodies Ourselves calls for increased activism to improve access to reproductive choices for Latina minorities in the boroughs of New York. Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, also takes a specific approach to Puerto Rican women in New York City and discussed specific Latina action groups and committees in Puerto Rico that have fought against specific policies by mobilizing within small Puerto Rican communities to provide accurate women’s health information. However, these committees were all explored in in the 1970s, and lacked much mention of current actions by these groups and whether they have found continued success. This type of coverage follows the trend of organizations ignoring any significance the Puerto Rican sterilization issue holds on its own and instead uses it an example in larger national and global issues of women’s health.

Blogs and Opinion Articles

Alternative forms of media, such as blog posts and op-eds, focused slightly more on sterilization in a Puerto Rican American context on its own, as a topic that should be discussed in its own terms, than the health advocacy organizations did. While the majority of this information was reported in a historical fashion, with very little acknowledgement of this being a current issue, there were a few notable exceptions. A blog article on Reproductive Health Reality Check reported a large amount of strictly factual information regarding the issue and detailed several policies that lead to sterilization of many Puerto Rican American women, such as how uninsured Puerto Rican women in New York must pay out of pocket for all temporary forms of birth control, yet can undergo the sterilization procedure for free. Other blogs focused on high sterilization rates as a product of Catholicism, the primary religion of 80 percent of Puerto Rican Americans, as an influencing factor on opinions regarding birth control and reproductive choice, as well as discussing social conditions of unemployment, poverty and the tendency of minority groups to be particularly susceptible to coercive tactics on the part of medical staff. Two of the blogs combined the specific issue of sterilization among Puerto Ricans with larger aspects of women’s health. The Mississippi Appendectomy, a blog focused on “women of color and coercive sterilization,” presented personal interviews with impacted women as well as a timeline of important information in the Puerto Rican context. The blog went on to discuss how the information fit into the larger scope of women’s health issues.  An opinion article by the Center for American Progress also combined the two scopes of analysis and specifically discussed how intentional lack of accurate and comprehensive sex education in Latina communities affect the abilities of women to access the services and information they need to make decisions about their reproductive health, and how in combination with restrictive welfare laws and laws tied to immigration status, these factors create a situation for Puerto Ricans in America that is extremely negative and filled with power dynamics and inequities.

A Continuing Issue?

The lack of mainstream news coverage of reproductive choices among Puerto Rican-Americans presents a situation where access to various methods of birth control is no longer an issue in New York City. However, this is likely simply because women’s reproductive health is such a depth-filled topic on its own, with hundreds of possible demographics, stories, and specific issues under its broad spectrum. Many of these issues, historically popular or not, are still salient and developing despite little media coverage. See the anthropological analysis section for further discussion.