Forced Sterilizations scene from 'Remembering Boyle Heights: Part 2' preseented at Casa 0101 Theater in 2022. Photo by Alan Arvizu.

In the Eastside of Los Angeles in the late 1960’s and 70’s, more than 200 women of color were forcibly sterilized after giving birth at the LAC + USC Medical Center. These women, many of them Spanish speakers, were forced to sign English-language documents, unknowingly agreeing to having a tubal ligation performed on them. This was evidently done in an attempt to restrict and reduce the population of races that were seen as inferior and “less intelligent”. 

The forced sterilizations changed the course of these women’s lives, as it was a shock to them that they were no longer able to have children. Ten of the women were represented in a historic 1978 lawsuit brought against the county by the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice in Boyle Heights.

Although the County won the case, it resulted in Spanish-language hospital documents being made available to those who need them. This was a win for the community, and all people over the course of time. 

Josefina Lopez is the author of ‘Remembering Boyle Heights Part 2.’ Photo by by Ed Krieger.

“When you have the truth on your side, you’re always the winner, you’re never the underdog,” said Josefina Lopez, a playwright known for writing multiple stories about women’s struggles. “Ultimately, they lost the case but [the women] won, because the truth was on their side.”

The County case came five years after the 1973 Roe v Wade U.S Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to have an abortion. That decision was overturned in June 2022, giving states the ability to outlaw abortion – a major hit to reproductive rights and freedom of choice. 

The overturning of Roe vs Wade raises many questions and concerns. The 2022 ruling reminded many reproductive rights advocates of the importance of choice: whether it is choosing what happens to your body, or in the case of forced sterilizations, not having a choice. 

Many activists believe the forced sterilizations that occurred in the Eastside of Los Angeles hold high relevance today, and must be acknowledged in order to have a better future. Yet many Eastside residents are surprised when they first become aware that this actually occurred in their community.

A play by Lopez that opened in December 2022 included a segment on the forced sterilizations at the county hospital. Titled “Remembering Boyle Heights Part 2,”  it tells various stories that are important to the community and its people. The segment about the sterilizations includes six women in hospital gowns who tell their story and how their life has been negatively impacted as a result of being sterilized.

“The point of the story is that all women should have a say in how many kids they want to have,” Lopez said before the play’s premiere at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights. “A lot of these women had no say over their bodies.”

The playwright said the topic felt especially important, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.

“It’s really important to tell the story that in the 70’s, something awful like this happened, and awful things can happen now, and that women still don’t have a say over their bodies,” Lopez added. “That’s why it’s so relevant today.”

The forced sterilizations may be taught in Chicano Studies and other courses at the college level, but many people do not have the opportunity to enroll in college, thus missing out on significant community history.  

Some educators feel the community would benefit from having this taught at the high school level.

Christina Quimiro is a teacher and instructional coach at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in El Sereno. Photo by Sergio Rodriguez for Boyle Heights Beat.

“It’s important for them to know our history, right, so that they can make better decisions for all of us,” said Christina Quimiro, a teacher and instructional coach who has been at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School for over 20 years.

When asked, Quimiro said the subject should be “absolutely” included  in the high school curriculum, and that it could encourage students to think critically.

“How are they going to respond to that?,” she said. “They can read something about a complex issue, and they can respond to it in writing, and they can develop and grow as learners through reading about this case, and through the situation in history that took place.” 

In recent years, the County of Los Angeles has acknowledged that the forced sterilizations were wrong. The government compensated the women and their families, and created a memorial site at the hospital –now known as LAC+USC– for those affected.

In spite of the compensation, no amount of money will ever make up for the horrific acts committed upon them at the county hospital. Activists say the fight for reproductive rights is an ongoing one, continuing in the present day. 

For Quimiro, what happened to the over 200 Los Angeles women that were sterilized without their consent was a complete violation of their bodies. 

“They were stripped of their humanity,” she said. “When you force something like that onto someone unknowingly, knowingly forced, you take away choice, you take away dignity, and it’s a massacre.”

Josefina Lopez believes that the sterilized women were completely dehumanized and the future of their families and mental health were disregarded by the county hospital.

“There’s some degree of evil there,” Lopez said. “Anytime you see someone who’s a human being as not a human being, and you can hurt them, that’s evil. Most people wouldn’t call it that, but I call it that, and that’s what we should call it.” 

Have an Eastside story to tell? Interested in publishing it in Boyle Heights Beat? Reach out to

Avatar photo

Sergio Daniel Rodriguez

Sergio Daniel Rodriguez is from El Sereno in Los Angeles. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, and is a recent graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, where he majored in...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *