The new face of sterilization

A Canadian paper reports that more and more childless young women are pursuing permanent birth control.


Page Rockwell
September 22, 2006 12:15AM (UTC)

Every birth control option has its downsides. But it's hard -- at least for me -- to imagine choosing sterilization instead. Not so for everyone: Canadian newspaper the Tyee reported this week that an increasing number of young, childless women in Canada are undergoing tubal ligation surgery.

It makes sense: If you're certain you never want children (or have kids and don't want any more), doing away with your fertility altogether will save you more than hassle. It can save you some serious money. Most methods of birth control put the onus on the woman, and usually, though of course not always, that means women front the cost as well as the primary responsibility. Surgery itself carries a cost (though it's likely cheaper in Canada), but after that, the Tyee notes, "there is no expense, no monthly cost." And for young women, the surgery is low risk; certain procedures are even done on an outpatient basis. As for whether young women will regret having the procedure, the data are patchy -- some research has indicated that women who elect tubal ligation seem to do just fine, while other research suggests that women who elect the procedure before age 30 have a higher incidence of regret. Either way, regret seems like an important risk for women to evaluate, rather than for medical minds to evaluate for them.

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Some squeamishness at the concept of sterilization may be understandable given its association with eugenics. But resistance to the idea may also be tied to outdated stereotypes about the maternal instinct that deserve to be shown the door. And indeed, a cool thing about stories like this one is that it challenges the perception of women as monolithically baby loving. Childless women seeking tubal ligation or other procedures have historically faced numerous hurdles, from physicians refusing to perform the procedure lest the patient change her mind and sue later to insistence that wives have their husbands' consent. There is still active ethical debate on the subject; in July, the Washington Post noted that some anesthesiologists conscientiously object to participating in sterilization operations. Men seeking vasectomies certainly encounter similar barriers, but there seems to be more public understanding accorded to guys who don't want to accidentally get somebody pregnant. It's cheering to think that a similar understanding may gradually be accorded to women who don't want to get pregnant -- ever.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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