Douglas v. Holloman Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Douglas v. Holloman is a case in which the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) defended New York City guidelines on sterilization procedures on behalf of women and groups concerned about sterilization.

Each year in New York City, thousands of women were being sterilized without their informed consent, because they had been misinformed about the irreversibility of the operation or coerced into consenting. Statistically, Black and Puerto Rican women had been the chief victims of this mass sterilization campaign in an apparent effort to “control” the population of these oppressed segments of society.

CCR attorneys, in conjunction with women’s groups, developed comprehensive Sterilization Guidelines and Consent Forms which were designed to ensure that all sterilizations performed in City hospitals were the result of knowing and voluntary agreement by the women who chose to have them. This form became a national model for other groups. After many meetings with the subcommittee of chiefs of Ob/Gyn Services of City hospitals, a final set of guidelines and consent forms was agreed upon and passed by the board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), and went into effect November 1, 1975.

These guidelines expanded the minimal protections included in the state and federal guidelines. Perhaps the most important aspect was the imposition of a 30-day waiting period between the time a woman is fully informed of the risks and benefits of sterilization and told of alternate birth control techniques, and the time the operation is performed. This 30-day period allows her to think through whether she truly wants this irreversible operation. Another important provision prohibited obtaining consent immediately before, during, or after abortion or childbirth because they are such stressful periods.

In January 1976, a lawsuit was filed by several prominent Ob/Gyn doctors from New York City teaching hospitals, challenging the constitutionality of the City guidelines as well as the state and federal guidelines, claiming they interfere with the doctor’s right to practice medicine and a patient’s right to be sterilized.

CCR attorneys intervened in the action on behalf of women and groups concerned about involuntary sterilization to ensure a vigorous defense of the guidelines. Five of the six doctors were dismissed from the suit when they failed to respond to interrogatories concerning the policies and practices of their hospitals. The sixth doctor agreed to a dismissal in return for minor changes in the HHC guidelines and consent form.