Experimenting on Girls of Color

Whose bodies have borne the cost of creating greater personal choice for girls and women in the United States?

A push for new developments in birth control led to experiments on poor girls and women of color, including Native American, African American, Puerto Rican, and poor white women—sometimes under coercion or without informed consent.

Sisters Mary Alice Relf (12 years old) and Minnie Lee Relf (14 years old) were sterilized in 1973 through the Montgomery, Alabama Community Action Program, a federally funded family planning clinic. Their sterilization raised serious questions about racism and medical ethics, and prompted a lawsuit from the Relf family.

Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf, 1973

Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf, 1973

Courtesy of Ebony


Depo-Provera, 1992

Gift of Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, Inc.

Depo-Provera was introduced in 1992 as an alternative to the birth control pill. The hormone progestin is injected into the upper arm or buttock every three months.

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Norplant Training Model and Trocar (Implanting Device), 1990

Gift of Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories

In 1990 the FDA approved the Norplant system. This new form of contraception could be implanted beneath the skin of the arm and later removed.

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