The practice of sterilization as a family-planning method is facing scrutiny after 13 women died following such procedures in India. But female sterilization is actually the most common form of birth control, with some 223 million women undergoing the procedure in 2009, NPR reports. A reproductive health expert tells NPR in an interview that we shouldn't demonize the process, which, he says, offers women "a sense of autonomy" and leaves them "less subjected to gender-based violence." "They can have the life they want without worrying about unwanted pregnancies," adds John Townsend, reproductive health director at Washington DC's Population Council.
Advocates point to the effectiveness of the procedure—its failure rate is just .5%, compared to condoms' 18%—as well as its low cost. In countries where women have children at younger ages, Townsend notes, they may need contraception for decades; having "permanent contraception"—a term advocates like better than "sterilization"—means they don't have to worry about continually purchasing or running out of birth control. Vasectomies, however, are even more effective, and they're lower risk. So why is female sterilization more popular than male? Most countries have "very few skilled providers" for vasectomies, Townsend says, and men, he says, are less likely than women to discuss their procedures and provide each other with information. As for the India deaths, tainted antibiotics may be to blame: A lab has found that they contained rat poison, the Times of India reports. (Read more sterilization stories.)