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Around the age of twenty-two, Nicole Lemley went to her gynecologist with hopes of bringing permanency to her preference of never having children. Rather than provide information about sterilization, Nicole’s doctor laughed at her for not liking children enough to give up her life to become a mom, and told her they would not undertake the procedure. With the passing nearly fifty years ago of the Sterilization Act of 1974 allowing for women twenty-one years and older to consent to sterilization, Nicole’s story should be a rare experience. However, Doctor Christina Richie, a lecturer of philosophy and ethics of technology who has written multiple pieces about reproductive technologies, has “yet to come across a story of a woman without children who was granted sterilization on a first request.” Though a 2011 survey showed that 98% of gynecologists report that they are willing to help a woman procure a tubal ligation – a common sterilization procedure – factors such as number of existing children, the woman’s age, and consent of husband affect whether the physician would attempt to dissuade the sterilization. A significant reason that physicians will deny sterilization is this belief that a woman will regret her permanent choice, citing studies showing anywhere from 1-26% of women regrettingsterilization. However, this statistic may be inflated because of the inherent difficulties in measuring a concept as abstract as “regret.”

This post was originally published on the Cardozo Journal of Equal Rights and Social Justice website on February 8, 2022. The original post can be accessed via the Archived Link button above.

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