Publication Date

April 2017


Anthony Hatch


Science in Society


English (United States)


This thesis investigates how physicians came to be the primary attendants of childbirth in America and how hospitals came to be understood as the "safe" places to give birth. I interpret the history of obstetrics to illuminate the cultural and social factors that enabled doctors to take over what had persisted for centuries as an exclusively female social event and ceremony. To demonstrate that this process resulted in the loss of female reproductive autonomy, I investigate mass coercive sterilization in the United States, focusing on the Madrigal v. Quilligan case of 1975-8, in which ten Mexican-origin women charged a public hospital in Los Angeles and ten individual obstetricians there for performing tubal ligations on them without their informed consent. Using (bio)medicalization, intersectionality, and eugenics and biopower theoretical frameworks, I use these two historical analyses to demonstrate that the medicalization of childbirth, and eventually reproduction, directly resulted in the loss of female autonomy, which is exacerbated by other social and cultural factors.



© Copyright is owned by author of this document