Horrifying State-Sponsored Eugenics Program Forcibly Sterilized Thousands of American Women

Illustration for article titled Horrifying State-Sponsored Eugenics Program Forcibly Sterilized Thousands of American Women

From the 1920's to the late 1970's, the state of North Carolina forcibly sterilized 7,600 people. Most of them were poor women, and a disproportionate number of them were black. At the time, the government justified the surgeries as in the best interest of the state, as those sterilized were classified as "feeble minded" or "promiscuous," but now the state's changed its tune and is trying to compensate victims of the program and put that whole ugliness behind it. I hope the restitution payments at least come with a "Sorry I Forcibly Chopped Up Your Fallopian Tubes And Called You A Slut" gift basket.

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NBC's Rock Center reports that North Carolina wasn't the only state to sterilize people for their own good; it was one of 31 states that had similar programs designed to control the birth rate of welfare recipients. However, North Carolina really took their program down about 50 notches by refocusing its efforts on black people. Specifically, black women. Some as young as 9.

While it started as a way to control the birth rate among poor whites who were on welfare, North Carolina's eugenics board took it in a decidedly racial direction and began sterilizing black women that they decided fell into all sorts of categories, from alcoholic to lazy to promiscuous. This action arose from the widely-held belief in 1920's America that all of these things were inextricably genetically inherited, and so if a poor alcoholic and another poor alcoholic got together and made a baby, that baby would grow up to suck money from the state. The practice of focusing on black people in the American south rose from the widely held belief in early 20th century America that black people were icky.

One woman was sterilized after being raped by a neighbor and giving birth at 13. Doctors didn't tell her what they were doing or why, and it wasn't until she was 19, married, and attempting to have a child that she was told that she'd had a tubal ligation. She's one of 48 victims of the program who have been identified based on their medical records. Current Tar Heel State governor Beverly Perdue is working alongside lawyers to arrange for payments in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $50,000, although she acknowledges that no amount could possibly be enough to compensate for what the state took from these women.

Remember, America: spay and neuter your poors.

Anyone else just want to quit today and go have some ice cream or something?

Victims Speak out about North Carolina Sterilization Program [Rock Center]

DISCUSSION

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Last year I wrote a very long research paper on the the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). In my background/history section I detailed the evolution of forced sterilization laws in the United States. My professor, who was a incredibly smart and well educated guy, wrote on my draft that he'd never even heard of these laws/practices.

I am glad that these stories are getting more attention. The sad fact is that before the Holocaust Eugenics was a dominant force in the United States and Europe. After the atrocities committed by the Nazis were revealed people obviously distanced themselves from the movement and our own history of Eugenics and forced sterilization has been swept under the rug.

Looking into your country's past can be very difficult and uncomfortable but it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to take away some kind of lesson. The fact that people still talk about sterilizing stupid/poor people and licenses to have kids shows that nearly a century later we haven't come to grips with the uncomfortable and upsetting facts about Eugenics in the U.S.