Tuesday, July 20, 2021

California Mandates Reparations for Some Victims of Forced Sterilization

By K.A. Dilday (July 20, 2021)

On July 12, California governor Gavin Newsom, signed into law AB-1764, a bill to pay reparations to people who were forcibly sterilized in California during the years 1909 and 1979 when the state’s eugenic sanctions law (enacted in 1909 and honed throughout the years) was in place, and to people who were sterilized in the state's prison system after that time. California is the third state, following North Carolina and Virginia, that will compensate victims of forced sterilization.

The bill signed by Gov. Newsom is particularly noteworthy as both the issue of reparations and of forced sterilization figure prominently in national dialogue. Just last year, a nurse at a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia joined in a whistleblower complaint alleging that a doctor at the facility performed a high rate of hysterectomies on migrating women without “proper informed consent,” and bills proposing reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black Americans are regularly debated in the U.S. Congress.

According to the final text of California’s AB-1764, the forced eugenics law targeted people deemed afflicted with “mental disease,” “feeblemindedness,” and, “those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality or from disease of a syphilitic nature.”

During the 70 years that the law was in place, the reparations bill states, “more than 20,000 people were sterilized, making California the nation’s leader by far in sterilizations, a number that was more than one-third of the 60,000 persons sterilized nationwide in 32 states … between 1919 and 1952, women and girls were 14 percent more likely to be sterilized than men and boys. Male Latino patients were 23 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latino male patients, and female Latina patients were 59 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latina female patients.”

That law was finally overturned in 1979 after 10 Los Angeles women of Mexican origin brought a lawsuit in federal court against the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for involuntary or forced sterilization in Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978). While the judge ruled in favor of the defendants, ascribing the unwanted sterilizations to miscommunication and language barriers, the women of Madrigal v. Quilligan nonetheless reshaped history. The next year, the state legislature overturned the law. They did not win for themselves but they won for future Californians.

Or so it seemed, since, notably, while the formal eugenics law ended in 1979, a program of sterilization as birth control and for dubious medical reasons led to the sterilization of approximately 150 mostly Latina and Black women in California prisons between 2006 and 2010.

In 2014, the bill SB 1135 made sterilization for birth control in California prisons unlawful, and put in place safeguards to ensure that any sterilization deemed medically necessary for an imprisoned person actually is. However, no reparations for past sterilizations were mandated at that time. 

Eugenics-driven sterilization in the United States has always been directed at those deemed mentally infirm or undesirable, a characteristic that is often assigned to people of color and to imprisoned people. This practice was sanctioned federally by the notorious 1927 Buck v. Bell U.S. Supreme Court decision. While Buck v. Bell was discredited by the Supreme Court decision in Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) that established procreation as a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and has been chipped away by other protective laws, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.

In addition to the eugenics programs in California, throughout the 19th century and through the mid-20th century there was mass forced sterilization of poor people (many black and Latino) in the South, Indigenous people in Western and middle-America, and of Puertoriquenos in Puerto Rico through the 1970s. But forced sterilizations were also performed on people who were deemed either mentally or morally unworthy, regardless of race.

California convened a "Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans" this year, and while some may see AB-1764 as another step toward direct reparations, the bill only authorizes payment to individuals who were sterilized, thus avoiding the complex issue of generational injury. And, unless they adopted or had biological children before the procedure, many people who were sterilized likely do not have offspring, reducing the number of descendants who might protest the bill’s limits on eligibility to bring a claim.

The status of potential claimants who are undocumented is unclear.

The state has allocated $7.5 million to pay the victims. According to The New York Times, the limited number of living potential claimants means that each successful applicant is likely to receive approximately $25,000.



July 20, 2021 in Contraception, Fertility, Incarcerated Women, Poverty, State Legislatures, Sterilization | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

New UN Report Supports Reproductive Justice and Birth Justice

By Fallon Parker (July 13, 2021)

In April 2021, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women and girls released a report on “women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis.” The report encourages a “radical shift” in how States manage and address crises of sexual and reproductive health and recognizes "reproductive and birth justice" as a promising advocacy framework to ensure that laws and policies comply with international human rights standards.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council who are charged with reporting on discrimination against women and girls throughout the world and identifying and promoting best practices to end discrimination and promote human rights. The report summarizes international standards recognizing that sexual and reproductive health rights are “an integral part of a number of civil and political rights that underpin the physical and mental integrity of individuals and their autonomy.” These rights include “the rights to life, liberty and security of person, freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, privacy and respect for family life, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to health, education and work and the right to enjoy benefits of scientific progress, and the cross-cutting rights of non-discrimination and equality.” As a result, States have an immediate obligation ensure that sexual and reproductive health rights are realized and cannot refuse to legally provide reproductive health services for women or girls.

State obligations to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights become more critical during times of crisis. However, the report notes that the focus on “crisis” as a singular event or series of events fails to address the sexual and reproductive health crises that women and girls face every day as a result of gender inequality and gender based violence.

The report emphasizes that the sexual and reproductive health is systematically neglected because of a disregard for the dignity and autonomy of women and girls. Sexual and reproductive health is necessary in order to achieve equality in other areas of life, and States have an obligation to be better prepared for both sudden and long-term crises that jeopardize this human right.

The report describes several factors that exacerbate risks and threats to sexual and reproductive health. Discriminatory laws, policies, and practices, such as denial of access to forms of reproductive care and structural discrimination that results in violations of sexual and reproductive health rights, put the health and well-being of women and girls at risk. States’ failure to prioritize and fund sexual and reproductive health, before, during, and after times of crisis, leads to inadequate services and discrimination against women and girls as second class citizens. The report also emphasizes the importance of including women and girls in decision making around sexual and reproductive health and holding people, particularly men, accountable for violations to a person’s sexual and reproductive autonomy.

Furthermore, the report includes analysis of other identities women and girls face that put them at increased risk of violation of their sexual and reproductive health rights. These identities include young and adolescent girls, rural women and girls, women and girls with disabilities, migrant, refugee, and internally displaced women and girls, indigenous women and girls, Roma women and girls, and women and girls of African descent.

The report provides international human rights analysis which could be useful to integrate into legal and political reproductive justice advocacy within the United States. The report specifically denounces the criminalization and prosecution of individuals for abortions, miscarriages and stillbirths and “condemns reporting requirements that contribute to a ‘hospital to prison pipeline” for women who have had or who are suspected of having abortions.”  It also criticizes the mistreatment of pregnant women of African descent in health care settings and notes that “[r]acism within the health system can be intensified by widespread State policing and surveillance and mandatory reporting requirements in relation to suspicions of drug use and child abuse or neglect, which often deters pregnant women from seeking reproductive health care and undermines their trust in health service providers.” The report’s recommendations specifically endorse providing timely and accessible maternal health services “without surveillance and reporting requirements that violate individual privacy.”

Additional recommendations include addressing the “overmedicalization and paternalistic approach to sexual and reproductive health services,” and promoting midwifery and other forms of community based care for pregnancy and childbirth, and recommendations focusing on increasing telemedicine, mobile clinics, and investing in resilient physical infrastructure in order to ensure equal distribution of services and access for diverse and hard-to-reach populations. This is particularly relevant for U.S. advocates as President Biden attempts to negotiate an infrastructure package that includes priorities like healthcare and childcare.

July 13, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)