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California to Compensate Survivors of Forced Sterilization

The Associated Press reported on July 7 that the state of California will pay survivors of forced sterilization up to $25,000 each who were deemed unfit to have children. Some of these people were as young as 13 years old at the time.

“While California sterilized more than 20,000 people before its law was repealed in 1979, only a few hundred are still alive,” Associated Press journalist Adam Beam wrote. “The state has set aside $7.5 million for the reparations program, part of its $262.6 billion operating budget that is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.”

California, like many states across the United States, sterilized people who they viewed as being unfit to have children in the rise of more visible acceptance of eugenics in the 1930s. This included disabled people, Native Americans, immigrants, and other people of color.

It also included women who were viewed as being too promiscuous. One famous example was socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt, whose mother tricked her to get sterilized in the 1930s. The author of The Unfit Heiress, Audrey Clare Farley, told me in an interview for Rewire News Group that “in the early stages of the eugenics movement, promiscuity and oversexuality were thought to be a mark of feeble-mindedness—a catch-all term applied to sexually deviant, poor, substance-dependent, epileptic, intellectually disabled, or otherwise socially undesirable persons.”

What makes California’s proposal different than the two other states, Virginia and North Carolina, which have compensated survivors of sterilization is that California is including people who were coerced into getting sterilized while in prison. Coerced sterilization is definitely not a thing of the past. Last year, it was reported that immigrants received hysterectomies without consent while in ICE custody.

While compensation is important, advocate  Stacy Cordova, whose aunt was forcibly sterilized, told Associated Press that awareness is crucial. “I don’t know if it is justice. Money doesn’t pay for what happened to them. But it’s great to know that this is being recognized,” she said. “For me, this is not about the money. This is about the memory.”

Image via Kevin Daniels/Wikimedia Commons

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