Betty Mary Goetting opened the first birth control clinic on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1937. The rhetoric she used to advocate for contraception in El Paso, Texas, paralleled eugenic trends in the birth control movement nationwide, focused on curbing fertility rates among those considered of poor mind and body. Where previous studies focus on the urban North, this borderlands case study places the birth control movement’s attention to overpopulation within the context of immigration restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border. Goetting’s birth control campaigns, supported by the movement’s pioneer Margaret Sanger, targeted Mexican-origin women as part of a larger process that sought to protect the body politic from non-white immigrants while simultaneously exploiting their labor. Despite Catholic backlash against birth control and the racist rhetoric of Anglo birth control advocates, Mexican-origin women enthusiastically visited the El Paso birth control clinic. Given the dearth of health care afforded working-class, Mexican-origin women at this time, hundreds of women used the clinic’s services for their own purposes—reminding us that birth control movements offer a paradox of coercion and choice.

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