The injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera was introduced in Britain in 1976 for short term use only. The contraceptive was also frequently administered to women along with the rubella vaccine. It soon became apparent that the drug was being administered ‘without any explanation of its side-effects and that sometimes it’s given without ... (Show more)
The injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera was introduced in Britain in 1976 for short term use only. The contraceptive was also frequently administered to women along with the rubella vaccine. It soon became apparent that the drug was being administered ‘without any explanation of its side-effects and that sometimes it’s given without the woman’s permission’. (Wendy Savage, 1982). Significantly, it was women from minoritized background who were most likely to be given the drug without consent in England. In 1978, a Campaign Against Depo-Provera was established by members of the Women’s Liberation Movement alongside Black women activists. As part of a submission to the public hearing on Depo-Provera in 1983, for example a 22-year-old West
Indian woman reported “I’d hardly got in from the hospital with my new baby – I was just taking the shawl off when there was a knock at the door”. She reported being given an injection by a doctor “to stop me getting pregnant…she didn’t warn me about any side effects.” In addition, the drug was also given to women from underprivileged backgrounds in Scotland. Rowena Arshad, who worked for the Scottish Education and Action for Development in the mid-1980s recalled “being sent to work in Ferguslie Park, which is a very
poor area in Scotland, very very poor, and learning there that the women had been given Depo-Provera, which was a contraception drug at that time, and thinking, hey, hang on a minute, women in India are being given this as well.”
As Dorothy Roberts has shown for the American context, ‘racism helped to create the view of birth control as a means of solving social problems.’ (Roberts, 2016). While scholars such as Roberts have conducted valuable work exploring the links between racism and birth control in the United States, less research has been done in the British context with limited important
exceptions (Stella Dadzie, 1985; Cecily Jones, 2013; Caitlin Lambert, 2020). Through the use of the reproductive justice framework and with focus on two geographic case studies, London and Glasgow, this paper aims to build on our understandings of the intersections of medical authority, race, class and resistance, through an exploration of the history of Depo-Provera in
1970s and 1980s Britain. Drawing on the archives of the Wellcome Collection, Black Cultural Archives and Glasgow Women’s Library, and focusing on the voices of women who were prescribed the contraceptive as well as those of activists who campaigned for its ban, this paper seeks to show how, in the hands of the medical profession, the drug became a tool of violence towards women of colour as well as women from underprivileged backgrounds.
Yet, movements such as the ‘Campaign against Depo-Provera’ not only helped to highlight the complex issues around the drug but also to illustrate attempts at uniting feminists along class and racial lines. (Show less)