By: Annette M. Lesure
East Los Angeles College held a screening of “For Rosa,” a film inspired by the Madrigal Ten, a group of women unknowingly castrated during childbirth.
ELAC’s 75th Anniversary Committee, along with Student Services, hosted the short film’s screening with a question and answer session. The storyline follows a fictional character and is based on true events that happened to Latina women while giving birth at Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center in the 1970s.
The film’s writer and director, Kathryn Boyd-Batstone, 27, was inspired to write her thesis film about the Madrigal Ten after watching a PBS documentary called “No Más Bebés.” She was shocked to learn that she was born and raised in Southern California and had never heard of the case.
Boyd-Batstone is a Masters of Fine Arts graduate from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She said she wanted to share this film to honor the Madrigal Ten and the many other women whose voices were never heard.
The Madrigal Ten filed a federal class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles, California, after being sterilized without knowledge or proper consent. The case known as “Madrigal v. Quilligan” came out when the one key witness, Karen Benker, a medical student at USC, testified against Doctor James Quilligan and his barbaric practices.
Boyd-Batstone said that eugenics played a role in these sterilizations and that the women experienced medical racism. She said that the idea of population control and war on poverty were both factors in sterilizing these Mexican American women. The eugenics movement in California was created to sterilize women that were not deemed as fit for procreating.
From the start of 1909, federal agencies began funding states based on the amount of castration procedures performed. California was responsible for two-thirds of the illegal operations.
While many people believe these illegal practices no longer exist, Boyd-Batstone disagrees. After interviewing various doctors at local county hospitals.
“They’ve told me that they’ve had a few patients come in and tell them I don’t know why I haven’t had my period in three or four months and then the doctor has done a checkup on them and found that their uterus is not there. And that’s in Watts, in LA. And that’s in the past couple of years,” Bastone said.
Boyd-Batstone said although the “Madrigal v. Quilligan” was ruled in favor of the doctors, changes were made going forward. Such changes include better-informed consent forms for women and bilingual paperwork for non-native English speakers. The judge who tried the case passed away, and President Nixon appointed a new judge who refused the woman any reparations.
“I chose to write about a fictional character in this true story to bring attention to the topic,” Boyd-Batsone said. She feels people watch documentaries that they are already passionate about and interested in. Therefore, giving the audience a fictional version with a loving family is an opportunity to gain a wider audience and empathy towards the topic.
Boyd-Batstone said that the hospital now keeps the consent document in a master database to show all of their staff. She said they are currently demolishing the ward and are rebuilding it in attempts to reach out to the community and repair the mistrust.
Dora Gonzalez, a clerk at the Women’s Clinic at LAC + USC Hospital, said that a woman would never be castrated without her knowledge at their clinic. While Gonzalez avoided The Madrigal Ten topic, she insisted that these practices no longer exist and that all medical staff is well trained in the procedures.