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Eugenics in the US and how we still have forced sterilizations

Recent whistleblower reports have resulted in the current investigation into the manipulation of ICE detainees into having non-consensual hysterectomies performed.  These hysterectomies, simply put, are a form of eugenics. Eugenics is the control and regulation of human breeding to improve the genetic composition or race percentage of a specific population. Systematic forced sterilization has been recognized as a Crime against Humanity so it is astonishing for such practices to be performed in the United States, the self-proclaimed land of liberty. Unfortunately, the truth is that forced sterilizations have been a legal practice with a deep history in the US and continue to be a widespread issue for communities of color and women with a lack of resources.

North Carolina was one of the 31 states that had a state-run eugenics program and by the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized.  The state’s program said that it targeted individuals seen as “delinquent” or “unwholesome.” In Mississippi, unnecessary hysterectomies were performed at teaching hospitals where women of color were used as practice for medical students. This happened so frequently that the term “Mississippi appendectomies” was coined in reference to sterilization procedures done without a patient's consent/awareness during an appendectomy procedure. Furthermore, between 1970- 1976 as many as 25-50 percent of Native American women were sterilized. Many of these were young women under 21 who received tubal ligations when they were getting appendectomies. In  California, women were sterilized under duress while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in the 1960s and 1970s. This resulted in the landmark case  Madrigal v. Quilligan in 1978 after many women came forward.  Between 2006 and 2010 California prisons authorized sterilizations of nearly 150 female inmates and paid doctors $147,460 to perform tubal ligations. Those who received the operation say it was done under coercion.  Finally, during the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico, more than 33% of the women population was sterilized. Still, to this day Puerto Rico has one of the highest documented rates of sterilization in the world. 

Though we like to think eugenics is an immoral and cruel invention of the outdated ideologies of Social Darwinism and white supremacy the reality is that compulsory sterilization has persisted through the 20th and into the 21 centuries in the United States. It has systematically targeted people of color and those from lower socioeconomic families. Many talk about the transition of slavery and Jim Crow laws into the modern prison industrial complex and over violent policing of minorities. And even though our justice system now has color-blind laws, we still see the consequences of a system built on exploitation, prejudice, and racism.  We can see a similar transition with eugenics in the US, where these programs deemed people as  “delinquent” and took away their reproductive abilities as a consequence in an effort to control them and their communities. As we have seen this week, this conduct is still happening and will continue to happen. Though we may no longer have government-run eugenics programs the legacy of them has manifested into our society as a means of control over black and brown bodies to this day



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