Shaping Reproductive Freedom – Family Planning and Human Rights in Cold War Guatemala, 1960s-1970s

Annika Hartmann, University of Bremen/Justus Liebig University Giessen:

In Guatemala, family planning has been accompanied by hostile voices since its origins in the 1960s. In periods of US-American support of repressive counter-insurgency programs, Guatemalan key figures often saw Guatemalan’s “reproductive rights” jeopardized by supposedly interventionist and coercive birth control methods. These accusations were linked to international debates on worldwide population growth and the establishment of family planning programs to confront the envisioned dangers of “overpopulation”. In this context, reproductive choice was declared a “universal” human right at the International Conference on Human Rights in Teheran in 1968. This act was celebrated by transnational population experts since they considered the 1968 Declaration an important step in ensuring public support for family planning worldwide. However, by linking “overpopulation” to discourses on development and modernization, they often gave priority to society’s engineering over individual freedom. This paper tackles the multifaceted character of “universal” reproductive rights by analyzing the manner in which different actors invoked human rights in the field of family planning in Cold War Guatemala. By doing so, it reveals how freedom and its meanings were understood and shaped through discourses on population and rights.

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