The racialization of a public policy: Birth control in Réunion in the 1960s and 1970s

Special report: Racialization and public policy
By Myriam Paris

While in France, in the 1960s and 1970s, feminists fought against a pronatalist policy that included a ban on contraception and abortion, their counterparts in Réunion faced an antinatalist policy focused on reducing the fertility of a population that was regarded as too large by many political, scientific, and institutional actors. This antinatalist public policy, which violated French law, was mainly supported by two organizations that brought together high-ranking politicians, economists, and doctors: the Association réunionnaise d’éducation populaire (AREP, Réunionese Association for Popular Education) and the Association réunionnaise d’orientation familiale (AROF, Réunionese Association for Family Planning). Based on an analysis of the reports by protagonists from these organizations, mainly doctors, submitted to the authorities supervising their activities, this paper first highlights the key contribution of these intermediary actors to producing racialized categories of public policy. It investigates how their gender, race, and class perspectives shaped the coercive orientations and modalities of the public policy implemented, targeting poor Réunionese women of color. It then examines, based on their newsletter, how the activists of the Union des femmes de La Réunion (Réunion’s Women’s Union), an organization primarily made up of women targeted by the antinatalist policy, took a stand, and mobilized against the racialized control of their fertility. This paper analyzes the way in which the mobilization of these minoritized intermediaries contributed, in the late 1970s, to changing public policy by forcing the doctors who implemented it to limit their practices of exception.

  • birth control
  • medicine
  • race
  • eugenics
  • public policy
  • Union des femmes de la Réunion
  • Réunion
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