Cuban Doctors without Borders: Family Planning Networks in the 1930s and 1960s

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:50 AM
Nassau Suite A (New York Hilton)
Rachel M. Hynson, Dartmouth College
Over the past three decades, social scientists have explored Cuban policies on abortion and contraception. However, the literature has focused on the largely free and legal abortions that became available after 1979 when the government decriminalized the procedures. Absent from this historiography is archival research on the Republican (1902-1958) and early-Revolutionary (1959-1979) periods. This paper examines the transnational exchange of contraceptive knowledge between Cuban and U.S. physicians in the 1930s and 1960s. Through close analysis of personal letters, it argues that the 1959 Revolution indirectly encouraged the formation of transnational networks and the continuation of older conversations about maternal health. By criminalizing abortions, policymakers in the early 1960s restricted Cuban women’s preferred method of birth control, facilitated an increased birth rate, and prompted medical practitioners to seek alternative methods of family planning. In this process, early-Revolutionary physicians engaged in an older conversation with their Republican counterparts who also sought to balance their desire for community health with their opposition to abortions as birth control. By placing physicians at the center of conversations about contraception and the state, this paper challenges government claims that 1959 represented both a rupture with the United States and with the Republican past.