A Massachusetts mother, thirty-five-year-old Tessa Savicki, is suing a hospital for forced sterilization. Savicki went into the hospital in 2006 to give birth to her ninth child via Cesarean section. She brought an IUD with her and asked the doctors and nurses present to insert it for her. Instead, Savicki claims, the doctors performed a tubal ligation, an irreversible form of sterilization.
While the hospital is claiming that Savicki signed a now-missing consent form at the time of the procedure, she denies any consent. The Boston Herald adds:
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.
Additionally, “Savicki previously sued CVS and the manufacturers of a spermicide that failed because, she claims, she was sold an expired product.”
While the courts figure out the details of the case, the public has been quick to judge the hell out of Tessa Savicki. They point to a number of reasons that would somehow negate Savicki’s right to control her reproductive choices:
- She already has nine children – she doesn’t need any more!
- She is poor and relying on the government for assistance – I don’t want to pay for her kids!
- She’s disabled…obviously, unfit!
- She’s unemployed! (read: lazy)
- She isn’t married! Horror!
- She has slept with more than one man!
- She’s litigious and just looking for $$!
I’ve spoken to a few feminist friends today about this and have had some surprising reactions to the story. Many of them, when confronted with my statement, “no matter the circumstances, someone else shouldn’t be able to sterilize you without your consent…” get a little iffy, pointing to the reasons above for fodder. How can these women who so staunchly defend a woman’s right to choice in NOT having a child suddenly contradict themselves when faced with a less-than-ideal (meaning not middle-class) mother figure? We’ve seen this kind of mother-shaming before, with both disabled women and women with many children. This article, written in February 2009 about Nadya “Octomom” Suleman, is completely applicable to Savicki’s case:
“Choice does not only involve abortion, it also extends to actively seeking to reproduce. While we may feel dismay at the number of children [a woman] has conceived, the moment we begin to question whether she had the right to make this decision, we invalidate the argument that reproduction is a private issue and that a woman’s body should at all times be under her control.”
Kate Harding points out that Tessa Savicki makes perhaps one of the least sympathetic plaintiffs. It’d be one thing, she writes, if this woman had not had any children – then this would be a true tragedy. But the facts of Savicki’s case should make her the perfect rallying cry for feminists everywhere. Savicki’s case forces us to “set aside classism, ableism, disdain for women who have sex with more men than we might think appropriate, and scorn for “bad mommies” to declare unequivocally” that sterilization of anyone without their consent is wrong.