Pending legislature aims to compensate victims of an old California policy that once resulted in forced or involuntary sterilization on individuals deemed unfit to reproduce.
Under California’s eugenic sterilization program, state institutions from 1909 to 1979 legally sterilized certain disabled or mentally ill persons—without valid consent. Eugenics was the scientific practice of selectively weed- ing out inferior genetic specimens.
“The sterilizations at the women’s prisons primarily targeted Black and Brown women as well as poor white women,” said Hafsah AlAmin, Program Coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), in a press release. “They were intended to stop the reproduction of a population whom the state would rather see caged, disenfranchised and infertile.”
Assembly Bill 1764— the Forced or Involuntary Sterilization Compensation Program Bill—provides for monetary reparations to any verified survivors of the eugenics laws, which California repealed in 1979. The bill further allows for compensation to the hundreds of women needlessly sterilized during their incarceration post-1979, usually while in labor, giving birth or during other surgical—and vulnerable—procedures.
“They were intended to stop the reproduction of a population whom the state would rather see caged, disenfranchised and infertile”
According to CCWP’s press release, state records reveal that almost 250 women throughout California’s prison system were involuntarily sterilized throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
“The majority of sterilizations were done on women and girls, and disproportion- ately impacted Latinas, who were 59% more likely to be sterilized than non-Latinas,” said the press release. “California officials apologized for this historical wrong in 2003.
“Recently the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors issued a public apology for non- consensual tubal litigations of Mexican-origin women at USC/LA County Hospital in the 1960s-1970s, yet the his- tory and legacy of California’s eugenics laws are little known.”
“As reproductive justice advocates, we recognize the insidious impact state-sponsored policies have on the dignity and rights of poor women of color who are often stripped of their ability to form the families they want,” said CLRJ Executive Director Laura Jimenez. “This bill is a step in the right direction in remedying the violence inflicted on these survivors.”
Aside from financial compensation, AB 1764 will designate historic markers at selected sites—to raise social awareness of the human rights atrocities inflicted on thou- sands of people in California.
If signed into law, California would become the third U.S. state to fund compensation for victims of state-sponsored eugenics laws.
AB 1764 would also make California the first state ever to give compensation to women involuntarily sterilized while they were incarcerated.
“The number of people sterilized under the 1909 eugenics law in California ac- count for one third of all the recorded sterilizations that occurred in the United States in the 20th century,” said CCWP. “It is important to note that administrators of the law at the time had broad discretion in practice to decide who was classified as ‘unfit’.”
“For 70 years, it was legal for Californians to be sterilized just because they were disabled or someone thought they were disabled,” said Susan Henderson, Executive Director of DREDF. “California’s Sterilization Compensation Bill helps provide redress to disabled survivors who were wrongly sterilized against their will.
“Taking responsibility for this injustice is the necessary next step to guard against future state-sanctioned abuse and discrimination.”