During the 1970s, the Chicana movement brought attention to issues of gender, race and reproductive rights. But the civil rights of Latina women were violated by unconsented sterilizations due to the “zero population movement,” which sought to decrease the birth rate of the Chicano population.
The college of Humanities and Social Sciences hosted a screening of the film “No Más Bebés,” directed by Renee Tajima-Peña on Monday afternoon. The film confronts California’s high sterilization rates in the 1970s.
“No Más Bebés” traces the 1975 Madrigal v. Quilligan court case, a lawsuit filed by ten women against Dr. Edward James Quilligan, who was head of the obstetrics at LA County USC Hospital, said Margie Brown-Coronel, Ph.D., assistant history professor.
“It also traces the individual stories and collected efforts of the women who sought justice for the abuses they encountered,” Brown-Coronel said.
About 30 students attended the screening of the film, which included a panel discussion with Virginia Espino, the film’s producer, and Consuelo Hermosillo, one of the ten plaintiffs. Both shared their experiences of the court case and the film process.
The audience sat through the 50-minute documentary that generated a range of emotions from laughter to tears when the story of each woman was told.
The film reveals Dr. Bernard L. Rosenfeld as a whistleblower for the case. He stole the medical records from the hospital that brought the sterilizations to light.
Rosenfeld is now one of a few doctors who is an expert on tubal reversal procedures. He had to leave the state and agreed to not testify in the case in order to avoid prosecution for wrongfully obtaining the medical records, Espino said.
The victims did not speak a word to anyone about their sterilization, according to the film. They believed that being sterilized was the end of a woman’s life because she no longer had the ability to produce children. Women feared their husbands would abandon them because they would no longer consider women.
Plaintiff participation in Madrigal v. Quilligan caused major changes in medical services, particularly practices of obtaining informed consent.
Making the film was difficult because some of the plaintiffs did not want to relive their experiences, Espino said. It took Hermosillo two years to agree to appear on camera and share her experience. “I didn’t even want to open the door,” Hermosillo said. “You know, I didn’t want to talk to them. I just wanted to forget it happened.”
Trying to hold back the tears, Alma Gonzalez, assistant to the dean of the College of Health and Human Development, saw a reflection of her mother in the victims’ stories due to the language barrier that enabled injustice and the fact that her mother gave birth during the time the events transpired at LA County USC Hospital.
“The thing that touched me the most about the film was when the children were saying, ‘Mom, I didn’t know this happened to you,’ and I always think about that because I’m an advocate for my mother, too,” Gonzalez said. “This could’ve happened to her.”
One of the main reasons for sterilization was the language barrier, which prevented victims from understanding the situation, Hermosillo said. “When she (Espino) told me exactly the way (the victims) were sterilized, each one had a different story,” Hermosillo said.
Hermosillo decided she wanted to help victims by going to court and testifying. She participated without telling her husband and her whole family, she said.
“Nobody knew what I went through. A lot of people, they were rude to me, and they later apologized,” Hermosillo said. As Hermosillo shared details about her experience, her voice filled with pain while she tried to hold back her tears.
“I went through a lot. I mean, I carried and carried it for years,” Hermosillo said.
Espino said she always wanted to shed light on stories like Hermosillo’s to show that even in the most difficult situations, there is a way to fight back and bring justice.
People in the audience connected with the stories of these women because most of them were daughters or mothers like Gonzalez.