Tuesday, July 20, 2021
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.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Reprohealth Law (June 15, 2016): Forced Sterilization Case Against Bolivia: Expert Testimony by Christina Zampas:
We continue to follow the story of I.V. v. Bolivia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' first case of forced sterilization (see previous post here). Brought against Bolivia by an immigrant woman from Peru, the case alleges multiple violations of the American Convention on Human Rights by doctors who claim they obtained her consent to sterilization during a cesarean section. The doctors claimed the patient needed to be sterilized because a future pregnancy would be dangerous.
An expert on forced sterilization, Christina Zampas brought to bear the United Nations' and the European Court of Human Rights' standards on the subject, including numerous cases against Slovakia concerning the forced sterilization of Roman women. Her position is that sterilization for the prevention of future pregnancy cannot be justified on the ground of medical emergency:
Even if a future pregnancy might endanger a person’s life or health, alternative contraceptive methods can be used to ensure that the individual does not become pregnant immediately. The individual must be given the time and information needed to make an informed choice about sterilization. The provision of information, counseling and sterilization under the stressful conditions of childbirth are not only a violation of the right to information but also violate the right to privacy, physical integrity and human dignity and are a gross disregard for an individual’s autonomy, rising to the level of inhuman and degrading treatment.
Zampas also urged the court to recognize the multiple layers of discrimination underlying sterilizations in circumstances like those faced by I.V. and justified by "medical necessity." The decision to sterilize, usually made by men, is often informed by stereotypes that cast women as incapable of rational reproductive decision making.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Rewire (June 3, 2016): A Sterilized Peruvian Woman Seeks Justice From Americas' Highest Human Rights Court, by Cynthia Soohoo and Suzannah Phillips:
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently heard argument in a case filed by a Peruvian refugee against Bolivia after she was sterilized after undergoing a cesarian section at public hospital. The case illustrates the all-too-common scenario of medical providers making decisions on behalf of women who are deemed "unfit or unable" to make their own choices. In a region where there are widespread reports of forced sterilization, the case is the first time the court will consider whether nonconsensual sterilization is a human rights violation. The case provides an important opportunity for the IA Court to condemn forced sterilization and to adopt clear standards concerning informed consent.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
(Guardian, Oct. 14, 2015): Catholic hospital denies Michigan woman treatment on religious grounds, by Ryan Felton:
Weeks after learning she would give birth to her third child, Jessica Mann was faced with a difficult decision: because she was stricken by a life-threatening brain tumor, her doctor recommended she have her fallopian tubes tied at the time of her scheduled cesarean section delivery, later this month.
Mann agreed to undergo the procedure at her hospital to prevent the risk of a future pregnancy exacerbating her tumor. But the hospital, Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, Michigan, declined on religious grounds.
The ACLU has filed a complaint with the Michigan department of licensing and regulatory affairs on Mann's behalf. Ethical and Religious Directives developed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibit facilites from performing tubal ligations. The Directives govern Catholic-sponsored hospitals in the U.S., and according to the ACLU and Mergerwatch as of 2011, one in 10 acute-care hospitals are Catholic sponsored or affiliated. ACLU attorney Brook Tucker state, "As Catholic hospitals become the sole option for more people, as they've merged with secular entities . . . they become more empowered to impose their will on the public because there is no other recourse."
Friday, September 25, 2015
CNN: Essure Sterilization Method under Fire, by Elizabeth Cohen:
More than 5,000 women have complained to the Food and Drug Administration about Bayer's Essure, a sterilization device, saying it caused problems including unintended pregnancies, stillbirths and debilitating pain and bleeding. The manufacturer placed blame on about 1/3 of the complainants, claiming that "[w]omen are supposed to return to a doctor's office in three months to make sure the device is working and are supposed to use another form of birth control in the meantime." Some commentators believe the FDA rushed the device's approval.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
The Hill: Iran's War on Women, by Soona Samsami:
March 8 marked International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on the situation of women throughout the world. With all the talk about Iran’s nuclear program, little attention is being paid to the internal situation, particularly Iran’s ongoing war on women. . . .
The bill itself undermines the reproductive rights of women, and limits access to contraception among other restrictions. The law would block employment at certain jobs for Iranian women who choose not to have children, making it clearly discriminatory and unfair. . . .
The Guardian: Iran aims to ban vasectomies and cut access to contraceptives to boost births, by Saeed Kamali Dehghan:
Iran is seeking to reverse progressive laws on family planning by outlawing voluntary sterilisation and restricting access to contraceptives, in a move human rights groups say would set Iranian women back decades and reduce them to “baby-making machines”.
The Iranian parliament is considering two separate bills aimed at boosting the population. But Amnesty International warned in a report published on Wednesday that the proposals are misguided and, if approved, would “entrench discriminatory practices” and expose women to health risks. . . .
Sunday, March 1, 2015
The Roanoke Times: Forced sterilization victims in Virginia awarded compensation:
Rose Brooks would have loved to have children and a family of her own one day.
“But they said, no, no, no, you can’t,” she said.
Brooks, 73, of Lynchburg, was one of thousands affected by Virginia’s decades-long policy of involuntary sterilization of those deemed mentally unfit or inferior.
The eugenics-based practice, now renounced, was in effect from the 1920s to 1970s. . . .
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The New York Times: Post-Mortems of Victims Point to Tainted Medication in India Sterilization Deaths, by Suhasini Raj & Ellen Barry:
Post-mortem examinations of several women who died after surgery at a government sterilization camp last weekend in central Indiasuggest that tainted medications might be to blame, rather than the unsanitary conditions or the assembly-line haste of the operations, a district medical officer said Thursday.
Initially, health officials suspected that 12 women succumbed to septic shock from infections contracted during their tubal ligation operations on Saturday, in the state of Chhattisgarh. The surgeon who operated on most of them, Dr. R. K. Gupta, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of culpable homicide. . . .
CNN: Surgeon tied to India sterilization deaths arrested, by Paul Armstrong, Sania Farooqui & Greg Botelho:
A surgeon has been arrested on charges of negligence and attempted culpable homicide in the deaths of a dozen women who had undergone sterilization operations at a mobile clinic in one of India's poorest states. . . .
See also: The Washington Post: Deaths shine light on ‘horrible’ conditions in India’s mass sterilization camps, by Annie Gowan
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Guardian: Iran bans permanent contraception to boost population growth:
The bill, banning vasectomies and similar procedures in women, is parliament's response to a decree Khamenei issued in May to increase the population to "strengthen national identity" and counter "undesirable aspects of western lifestyles".
Doctors who violate the ban will be punished, the IRNA reported. . . .
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Northern Virginia Daily (6/13): Edinburg Man's Plea Deal Includes Vasectomy, by Joe Beck:
An Edinburg man will undergo a vasectomy as part of an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to child endangerment, hit and run driving and driving on a suspended license...
Jessie Lee Herald, 27, was also sentenced to a total of one year and eight months in prison and three years supervised probation and two years unsupervised probation. . . .
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The New York Times: Hospital Mergers Reset Abortion-Access Battle, by Kirk Johnson:
Politicians seeking to restrict access to abortion, a marked trend this year from North Dakota to Arkansas, tend not to get much traction in this part of the country.
Washington is heavily Democratic, leaning left especially on social issues. A majority of voters even put into law a statutory right to abortion in 1970 — the only state ever to do that. The governor, Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is pushing the Legislature even now to pass a law at a special session on Monday requiring health insurers to pay for elective abortions, another first for the state if it makes it to Mr. Inslee’s desk.
But now a wave of proposed and completed mergers between secular and Roman Catholic hospitals, which are barred by church doctrine from performing procedures that could harm the unborn, is raising the prospect that unelected health care administrators could go where politicians could not. . . .
H/T: Grayson Barber
In addition to prohibiting abortions and certain kinds of end-of-life care, Catholic hospitals also refuse to provide contraception (often including emergency contraception for rape survivors), sterilizations, and infertility services. For more about the threats posed by these mergers, see the MergerWatch website.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Charlotte Observer: Legacy of N.C. sterilization scrutinized, by Ann Doss Helms:
As N.C. lawmakers revive the question of victim compensation, students and professors gathered at Wake Forest University on Thursday for a two-day conference on the impact of the state’s eugenic sterilization program.
From 1929 to 1974, long after most states abandoned similar efforts, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina authorized sterilization of roughly 7,600 women, men and children who were deemed unfit for parenthood. Mental illness, epilepsy and “feeble-mindedness” – often gauged by low scores on now-discredited IQ tests – were grounds for sterilization, with or without the patient’s consent. . . .
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Feminist Majority Foundation: UN Condemns "Normalization" Surgeries of Intersex Children:
Last week the United Nations released a report condemning the practice of performing "normalization" surgeries on intersex children.
The Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT) to the United Nation's Human Rights Council submitted a report to the General Assembly that addressed the practice of surgically altering children born with ambiguous genitalia.According to the report [PDF], "Children who are born with atypical sex characteristics are often subject to irreversible sex assignment, involuntary sterilization, involuntary genital normalizing surgery, performed without their informed consent, or that of their parents, 'in an attempt to fix their sex', leaving them with permanent, irreversible infertility and causing severe mental suffering.". . .
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Swedish Court Overturns Law Forcing Sterilization On Transgender People Seeking a Legal Change of Sex
Time: Transgender People in Sweden No Longer Face Forced Sterilization, by Rebecca Nelson:
Until late last week one of Europe’s most progressive nations had one of the continent’s most repressive policies on transgender people. Swedish law had required all transgender people to undergo sterilization if they want to legally change their sex. In a Dec. 19 decision, the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal overturned the law, declaring it unconstitutional. . . .
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Pamela Cox (University of Essex) has posted Marginalized Mothers, Reproductive Autonomy, and 'Repeat Losses to Care' on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Over 70,000 children are ‘looked after’ by local authorities in England and Wales. Emerging research suggests that a significant proportion of their birth parents have either already lost a child to permanent adoption or will go on to lose others. These ‘repeat loss’ cases raise difficult questions about marginalized mothers and their reproductive autonomy. This article considers past and present tactics used by the state in its attempts to limit that autonomy, including institutionalization, sterilization, long‐acting contraception, and permanent adoption. It argues that the gradual democratization of intimate citizenship over the past century, defined as a person's ability to choose and direct their intimate relationships, has obliged the contemporary state to develop new tactics which aim to build personal capacity and to balance enhanced child protection with enhanced reproductive autonomy.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
ShelbyStar.com: State: No compensation for sterilization victims, by Leo Hohmann:
A dark chapter in North Carolina’s history in which the state forcibly sterilized 7,600 of its own citizens ended in 1974, but the push to compen-sate the victims will apparently drag on into the next budget year.
Legislators did not include any money in a state budget deal for living victims of the North Carolina “eugenics” program, carried out by a state-sanctioned board from 1929 through 1974. . . .
House leaders passed a compensation plan two weeks ago to pay $50,000 to living victims. But the deal fell apart in the Senate. . . .
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Politico: North Carolina may compensate sterilization victims, by MacKenzie Weinger:
The North Carolina legislature is moving to compensate victims of involuntary sterilization, according to a report.
Lawmakers filed a bill Wednesday recommending the state pay victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program $50,000 each, The Associated Press reported. North Carolina’s program forcibly sterilized more than 7,600 people from 1929-1974. . . .
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Los Angeles Times: Activists: Abuses exposed by escaped Chinese dissident continue, by Emily Alpert:
Blind human rights activist and attorney Chen Guangcheng, who fellow activists say escaped from house arrest last weekend, had worked to expose forced sterilization and other abuses by Chinese authorities charged with family planning until he was arrested and confined in 2005.
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch China director, said the abuses that Chen revealed have continued, even though the Chinese law requiring families to have only one child is enforced unevenly. Forced abortions, sterilizations, detentions, beatings and firings for those who violate the rules have been reported, activists say. . . .
Sunday, February 26, 2012
The New York Times: Catholic Hospitals Expand, Religious Strings Attached, by Reed Abelson:
As Roman Catholic leaders and government officials clash over the proper role of religion and reproductive health, shifts in health care economics are magnifying the tension. Financially stronger Catholic-sponsored medical centers are increasingly joining with smaller secular hospitals, in some cases limiting access to treatments like contraception, abortion and sterilization.
In Seattle, Swedish Health Services has offered elective abortions for decades. But the hospital agreed to stop when it joined forces this month with Providence Health & Services, one of the nation’s largest Catholic systems. . . .
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The New York Times – Economix blog: Raising the Price of Reproductive Rights, by Nancy Folbre:
A political and cultural battle has now become an economic siege. Having failed to roll back legal access to abortion and contraception, opponents now seek to make them as costly as possible.
It’s a clever strategy, because it does not require majority political support. Small legal and bureaucratic changes can often be carried out under the political radar. The women most directly affected are those with the weakest political voice and the lowest discretionary income.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, 23 percent of Americans said abortion should not be permitted. In many states, a much larger percentage seems willing to go along with efforts to make it extremely difficult to obtain. . . .