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Ley #136

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

By Lauren Díaz Quintana - M.A. in Sociology, George Washington University

(Above is an American fear-based propaganda utilized to spread the popularity of sterilization in Puerto Rico during the 1930's. It reads, "This family planned their future. This family did not plan their future. The more kids you have, the less you can give to each.")

In the 1930’s, the United States deemed an excess of population in Puerto Rico. This was because American colonialist took fifty percent of the land and displaced the Puerto Rican people. Due to the displacement, forty percent of Puerto Rican men were unemployed. The United States then decided to enforce mass sterilization for their own economic and social interests. The creation of La Ley #136 was used as a tool to socially control the population growth of poor and Black Puerto Ricans. Between the 1930’s and 1970’s, 1/3 of Puerto Rican women were victims of mass sterilization.


“Yes, we are talking about 33% of the women in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico is said to have the highest sterilization rates in the world, and I am tired of the United States not taking accountability.

La Ley #136 included a mass sterilization policy driven by eugenics funded by white American men. This policy decided which women can have children and how many. Time and time again we see how white men in power have socially controlled people of color, specifically women. When did it become the choice and right for men to decide what women can and can't do with their bodies? And the hypocrisy lies within those people and their future generations who became pro-life.

Through a documentary called “La Operación”, we hear the stories of Puerto Rican women who did not give consent and were not informed about the operations being done to them. The United States government took advantage of our Puerto Rican women.

Many medical professionals would knock on the doors of low income neighborhoods in Puerto Rico to attain participants for the American studies on anti-conceptive and birth control pills. The women of Puerto Rico were not told that they were one of the first population groups in the world to be in these studies and test these pills. In the testimonies, women expressed that they were given these pills right then and there by government officials and medics. These pressured instigations from medical professionals continuously occurred. When women wouldn’t show up to the clinics and studies, they would be visited by the government. This action plan by the United States was used as a way to implement fear and pressure to socially control Puerto Rican women. This government routine was used to murder and exploit our Black and Brown Puerto Rican women. This was clearly driven by eugenics to eliminate the Puerto Rican population!

Additionally, propaganda played as a tool of social control to perpetuate mass sterilization in Puerto Rico. Many Puerto Rican men and women were bombarded with American propagandas (like the one above) to stimulate the popularity of sterilization. One idea spread to families was that having a small household was the only way to socially mobilize. Another idea was that the lack of population control would create a global war. As people in Puerto Rico heard about these issues that would occur if not succumbing to sterilization, the United States was able to manipulate them. The ideology spread that if Puerto Rican people did not give in to sterilization (a form of social control), they would be deviant.

The Puerto Rican women eventually revolted in the 1970’s. This revolution spread in the media and it was made clear that the United States’ purpose was to kill and exploit poor and Black Puerto Rican women. With recent revolutions and protests occurring in Puerto Rico, we see how that the United States ability to socially control and try to exploit our people has become harder and harder for them, and we hope for a change to bring justice to our Puerto Rican women. May our Puerto Rican women rest in peace and power.


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