Thursday, December 11, 2014

Forced Sterilization: Stripped of Nurture.

Note: I meant to post this two years ago, so some of the information about the bills passed may be out-of-date. 

Until this last month, I didn’t know that America once had Eugenics Laws to forcibly sterilize people. By “people,” I’m referring to an estimated 650,000 Americans, 7600 of them from North Carolina. 71 percent of those sterilized in NC were operated on after World War Two, when the other 32 states with Eugenics laws had toned down their racist genetic-theory enthusiasm. Between 1929 and 1974, if you lived in North Carolina and you were deaf, blind, diagnosed with a mental disorder, had special needs, poor, a minority, a mother out of wedlock, or any combination of the above, it was up to the mercy of a judge and your doctor whether or not you should be forcibly sterilized.

1929- Two years after the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, when forced sterilization for the mentally ill or feeble-minded was ruled constitutionally OK, North Carolina passed their “Act to Provide for the Sterilization of Mentally Defective and Feeble-Minded Inmates of Charitable and Penal Institutions of the State of North Carolina.” This meant that they were also fans of forced sterilization if it meant eliminating inferior genetics for “the public good.” Those likely to be sterilized were “insane” or “feeble-minded” people who came from “unfit” parents. Or, as Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated in Bell. v. Buck, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” By the way, Buck v. Bell still isn’t overturned.

            The Eugenics Board of North Carolina was originally founded, like Eugenics boards in other states, to supervise the sterilization of inmates or the institutionalized. But the EBNC also wanted to lower the state’s public assistance costs by allowing counties’ welfare departments and state social workers to seek sterilization for their uneducated or unemployed clients who were likely to have more children.

The number of sterilization operations performed on free civilians became greater than those performed on the incarcerated and institutionalized. Then Birthright, later called The Human Betterment League, started its biggest chapter in North Carolina. They claimed to study the nature of Eugenics through funding the sterilization of those the League called “Morons.” Their program lasted for thirty years, mainly to targeted poor black women. Their program lasted for thirty years. 

            From 1950 to 1960, North Carolina sterilized more people than they had in any other decade, and Mecklenburg County sterilized three times people than any other county. Wallace Kuralt, nationally known for his advocacy of eugenics, was head of Mecklenburg County’s Welfare Department. His department pushed to sterilize, “low mentality-low income families which tend to produce the largest number of children." Thousands of women were sterilized for being “promiscuous,” including women who had been raped. IQ tests were used to determine if a patient was “capable” of having children.

            99 percent of those sterilized in North Carolina were women, and 60 percent were black. Voluntary sterilization were legalized and offered as a form of birth control to unwed or underage mothers, especially those on welfare. Though some women were recorded as voluntarily undergoing the procedure, many patients were uninformed about the procedure, or told that it was reversible.

Even though North Carolina performed America’s last sterilization in 1974,  Eugenics laws remained legitimate until 2003, when they were finally repealed. In June, the North Carolina drafted the United States’ first bill that proposes compensation for the victims of forced sterilization. 72 victims are verified but around two thousand are estimated to be still alive. The bill passed through North Carolina’s House of Representatives, but didn’t pass through the State Senate. Each victim would’ve received fifty grand, but, as NC Senator Austin Allran said, “The state has no money anyway.” Back in the 60s and 70s, when the state was looking for ways to cut down on welfare costs, they thought that they couldn’t afford to let “unworthy” people have kids. Now, it kind of seems like the state can’t even afford to say that it’s sorry.

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