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No Más Bebés

Mexican-American women fighting for justice after being sterilized against their will
Latina Studies • Reproductive Rights • Civil Rights  
American History • Medical Ethics • Race & Ethnicity
2015. A film by Renee Tajima-Peña and Virginia Espino.
53 & 79 Minutes. In English & Spanish with English Subtitles. Includes Captions on 53 Minute Version.

 

No Más Bebés tells the story of Mexican immigrant mothers who sued doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County General Hospital during the 1970s. Alongside an intrepid, 26-year-old Chicana lawyer and armed with hospital records secretly gathered by a whistle-blowing young doctor, these mothers stood up to powerful institutions in the name of justice. Their landmark 1975 civil rights lawsuit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, asserted that a woman’s right to bear a child is guaranteed under the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. This EMMY® nominated film lifts up the significant contribution of Chicana activists who sought to redefine reproductive politics--not only as the right to abortion, but also the human right to bear a child. Their demand that the needs of poor women and women of color be heard resonates powerfully, as women’s reproductive choice is under attack and the reproductive justice movement struggles to insure that all women have a voice in the debate.

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Reviews & Quotes

Video Librarian

Reviewed by Aud: C, P. (P. Hall)

"Renee Tajima-Peña’s PBS-aired documentary focuses on a shameful chapter in California history involving one of the most horrifying denials of civil rights imaginable. During the 1960s and early ‘70s, the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center tricked and bullied Mexican immigrant women who gave birth through emergency cesarean sections into signing documents authorizing tubal ligation surgery that effectively sterilized them. In 1975, 10 of these women joined in the Madrigal v. Quilligan lawsuit that sought damages from the hospital, the state, and the federal government. No Más Bebés interviews several of the women behind the lawsuit, who talk about the circumstances that resulted in their loss of reproductive rights—including doctors withholding pain medication until they signed consent forms—and their shock when they discovered what had happened. The medical community argued that the procedures were undertaken because doctors felt the women faced health problems, and most had already borne several children. The film points out that during this period a widespread fear of overpopulation resulted in federal funding for population control studies. But limits on childbearing were never suggested for white women with large families, which raises the shocking specter of racially motivated eugenics. A disturbing and heartbreaking documentary, this is highly recommended."

California State University San Marcos

Michelle A. Holling, Ph.D., Professor of Communication and Ethnic Studies Program

No Más Bebés allows viewers to hear first-hand from Chicana plaintiffs thereby illustrating the power of testimonio--the individual and collective retelling of racialized, gendered, and classed wrongs--to document a horrendous medical practice enacted against a population of Chicanas. Their voices, which contribute to the herstory of Chicana feminism and activism, augmented by interviews with key figures surrounding the case add depth and complexity to viewers’ understanding of the social forces Chicanas and their attorneys contended with. This documentary is a must see for anyone interested in matters of social justice, ethics, reproductive justice, gender-women's and ethnic studies.

The Washington Post

Reviewed by David Montgomery

"It does not spoil the ending to say that the case helped lead to bilingual consent forms and bilingual counseling. Yet in those contested times, even the remedies were difficult to agree on. Some Chicana activists favored a waiting period before sterilization could take place, while some white feminists considered sterilization-on-demand to be a reproductive right.What is undebatable is the emotional pain of the women who unwittingly lost the ability to have more children. They mourn for the lives that never came to be. Many mourned in secret: Their sterilization was a source of shame that they hid even from the children they had before the procedure. Some of those children, now adults, found out only when the filmmakers came to speak to their mothers."